|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.
| United Kingdom
|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 ("Canal Struggle") was the German name given to a series of air battles between the German Luftwaffe and British Royal Air Force (RAF) over the English Channel which marked the beginning of the Battle of Britain in July 1940, during the Second World War.
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 the Kanalkampf operations, the Luftwaffe was supported, albeit minimally, by the E-Boats of the Kriegsmarine (German navy).
Fighter Command did not protect the convoys adequately and German attacks inflicted heavy casualties on British shipping. Vessels from other neutral countries were also caught in the crossfire and sunk or damaged. 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 the service. British air defences remained a formidable obstacle for the Luftwaffe in the coming campaign. During the course of the Kanalkampf, 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 5–8 July: 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 21–26 July: Skirmishes
- 3.11 27 July: Battle over BOSOM II
- 3.12 29 July: Destroyers withdraw
- 3.13 30 July–7 August: Weather and relative quiet
- 3.14 7/8 August: Naval battle around PEEWIT
- 3.15 8 August: Air battle over PEEWIT
- 3.16 11 August: BOOTY, AGENT, 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 War Office and to a greater extent 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 in 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. The 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 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 quite difficult.
The Air Staff did not disregard coastal or convoy defence completely and they did assume 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 145 Squadron Hawker Hurricanes made flights without any losses.
Combat soon followed. 72 Squadron 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 235 Squadron claimed a Dornier Do 17 damaged while Spitfires from 64 Squadron 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, Portsmouth, the local Royal Navy area commander. 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 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.
5–8 July: 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 JG 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 257 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 bombed 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 ZG 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 43 Squadron 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 and escorted by Bf 110s, attack 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. Lichtenfels was the only Ju 87 pilot 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 Ju 87s. 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 64 Squadron 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 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 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 the destroyers Valorous. Steamer City of Limerick (1359grt) was sunk. Destroyers Mackay and 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./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 Squadron 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 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. 264 had operated with success over Dunkirk eight weeks earlier and its sister unit, comprising 12 aircraft from 141 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.
Shipping suffered as well. At 12:15 that day StG 1 found and attacked the destroyer Beagle off Dover. In the uneven struggle, Beagle fought back with what anti-aircraft firepower she had and used high-speed evasion tactics to escape the deluge of bombs from 40 to 50 Ju 87s. She was not hit directly but several near misses damaged her gyro and engines. There were no casualties. She limped back to Dover and was sent for repairs. At 16:00 German formations appeared over Dover. Nine Do 17's from KG 2 and Ju 87s from StG 1 bombed the harbour, attacking in shallow dives. Twenty-two bombs fell and the oiler War Sepoy blew up. The tug Simla was badly damaged as was the drifter Golden Drift. The destroyer Griffin was damaged necessitating further repairs.
20 July: Battle over BOSOM
The first activity on 20 July occurred at around midnight, when a Focke Wulf Fw 200 Condor ventured too far inland and was shot down by ground defences near Hartlepool. Another was lost over Northern Ireland. German records these losses on different dates, but British sources are clear they both fell on this night while engaged in mine laying operations around the British coast. Both machines came from Kampfgeschwader 40 (KG 40). These actions triggered a disorganised flurry of activity at daybreak. 12 No. 54 Squadron Hurricanes were ordered to scramble at 05:21 to engage a 40-strong formation of enemy aircraft approaching the Thames Estuary. The Luftwaffe group had been ordered to the vicinity after a convoy had been sighted. The report was mistaken, but the German flights split into small groups and combed the seas looking for the non-existent ships. Radar tracked the German raiders as they patrolled the waters. 54 Squadron failed to intercept. An element of 56 Squadron was readied to support the Hurricanes from 54 Squadron; they took off at 05:45. hey spotted a formation of Ju 88s from Kampfgeschwader 4 (KG 4), and forced one down near St Osyth.
A number of Lightvessels had been sunk along the coast. The Trinity House crews were located in one spot and unable to manoeuvre. Radar usually picked up enemy raiders before they reached the target area but in low-light conditions the little ships were very vulnerable. Both Keith Park and Leigh-Mallory were concerned the Luftwaffe would attack lightships off the East Coast and they decided to put up aerial patrols over the coast near their anchorages.
On this morning, a convoy BOSOM, was making its way out of Lyme Bay. A Squadron of Hurricanes from 238 Squadron chased off three Bf 109s loitering in the area. The Hurricanes then spotted a Seenotflugkommando 4 He 59 ambulance at 14:30, which they dispatched; all four crewmen were killed. As BOSOM steamed to the east another He 59 from Seenotflugkommando 1 made an appearance and shadowed the convoy. It was engaged by 43 Squadron. One Hurricane was shot down by return fire and the pilot bailed out but drowned while the He 59 escaped into cloud. No. 601 Squadron took over and the Heinkel was pursued to destruction: the crew bailed out but they were too low and failed their parachutes failed to deploy. As BOSOM reached the RAF Kenley and RAF Biggin Hill sectors, it was clear its presence had been compromised since the He 59s had ample time to report it. Park ordered standing patrols of 24 fighters over BOSOM at any one time, split evenly between Spitfire and Hurricane units.
The Luftwaffe was not deterred and at 18:00 it committed II./StG 1 to attack it—it was the Gruppe 's first mission in a week. I./JG 27 sent around 50 Bf 109s as escort for the Ju 87s along with a small force of Bf 110s. Bf 109s from I. and II./JG 51 also offered support. Radar alerted British fighter units in good time. Hurricanes from No. 32 and 615 Squadrons protected by Spitfires from 65 and 610 Squadron were able to assemble and take the Germans by surprise by diving out of the sun. The escorts were unable to prevent the initial attack which damaged four Ju 87s and accounted for two destroyed, one of which killed pilot Leutnant Roden and his gunner. The Geschwader (Wing) also lost its Do 17 reconnaissance machine shot down near the convoy. The Bf 110s stayed out of the action owing to the strength of the opposition. However, the Bf 109s reacted quickly. A 30-minute battle began over BOSOM. Three Bf 109s were shot down in action with Spitfires from 615 Squadron. One Bf 109 from I. and II./JG 51 were lost in action with 32 and 65 Squadron. 32 Squadron lost a Hurricane and its pilot in action with JG 51 while 501 Squadron also suffered the loss of one fighter and its pilot. A Spitfire from 610 Squadron was damaged and its pilot severely wounded. The machine was written off.
The air battle distracted the RAF fighters sufficiently enough to permit the Ju 87s to attack the convoy. The coaster Pulborough was hit and was blown to pieces. The Ju 87s then turned their attention to the Royal Navy destroyer Brazen. The vessel was subjected to a sustained dive bombing attack. It was hit by accurate attacks on multiple occasions. Brazen then snapped in half, the ship's back having been broken.
21–26 July: Skirmishes
On 21 July Park established standing patrols of 12 fighters over the only convoy to pass through the straits on this day. Skirmishes between RAF fighters and German reconnaissance aircraft. A Bf 110 was shot down over Goodwood and a Do 17 followed. Both were destroyed by No. 238 Squadron. Heading west bound during the night it reached the Isle of Wight at daybreak. A group of Do 17s escorted by around 50 Bf 109s and Bf 110s from III./JG 27 and V./LG 1 attacked the convoy south of the Needles. No. 43 Squadron engaged the enemy formation and dispatched one Bf 109 and one Bf 110 but lost one pilot killed in return. Intercepting 238 Squadron claimed the Bf 110 and the Dorniers failed to damage the ships. It ended the only action of the day. Virtually the only daylight action was the destruction of a Do 17 from 4(F)/121 by Hurricanes of 145 Squadron. The 23 July yielded virtually no action either. A Ju 88 from 4(F)/121 was shot down by 242 Squadron near Yarmouth. A small convoy was passing through on 24 July near Dover and was attacked by Do 17s from KG 2. Intercepting Spitfires from 54 Squadron disrupted their attack an they failed to score a hit on the ships. The Spitfires chased them away but were unable to claim any victories. StG 1 were sent out after shipping in the afternoon and sank the 2,318-ton Terlings and the Norwegian steamer Kollskeg.
Later that day another convoy set out from Medway at 11:00. 18 Do 17s escorted by 40 Bf 109s from Adolf Galland's III./Jagdgeschwader 26 (JG 26). No Squadron became embroiled in a pitched battle with JG 26 while six Spitfires entered the fray from 65 Squadron. 610 Squadron scrambled to cut off the Germans' return route. 65 Squadron could not bring any of the Do 17s down. The defensive fire was intense and accurate and the enemy formation was packed tightly, denying the British fighters the chance to break up the formation. JG 26 lost three two Bf 109s; one falling to the ace Colin Falkland Gray. Two pilots were killed and one wounded. Running low on fuel, the Bf 109s used the advantage of their fuel-injected engines and faster dive speed to disengage. The RAF pilots were misled into believing they had been shot down, claiming six and eight probable. Bf 109s from III./Jagdgeschwader 52 (JG 52) were covering JG 26's retreat and they ran into the Spitfires from 610 Squadron and lost three of their number. One Spitfire pilot was killed and one wounded during a force-landing. A Ju 88 from I./LG 1 and an a He 111 from an unidentified unit were lost with their crews.
The Germans observed the heavily guarded west-bound convoys approaching Dover and took action accordingly. Luftflotte 2 initiated carefully timed fighter and bomber sweeps throughout the 25 July. The German plan was to send out powerful groups of fighter formations to exhaust standing RAF patrols. Once British fighter opposition had spent itself against the Bf 109s, large bomber formations could then attack the convoys before reinforcements arrived. At noon 65 Squadron were in action with JG 52 with the Germans losing one fighter and its pilot with no loss to the British. Nine 32 Squadron Hurricanes and 11 from 615 Squadron engaged more than 40 Bf 109s in an intense dogfight near Dover. The ferocity of the battle did not match the losses which were limited to one severely damaged Hurricane. As the battle reseeded Ju 87s from 11.(Stuka)/LG 1 and III./StG 1 made a mass attack on the convoy. Frantic calls from the ships in the area were answered by 54 Squadron which sent nine Spitfires to their defence. Escorting Bf 109 fighters (unit unknown) overwhelmed the defenders and accounted for two Spitfires and their pilots without loss to the Germans.
Park noted enemy attempts to saturate defences and he fed low-numbers of RAF fighters into convoy protection until a major attack developed. In the afternoon, eight Spitfires of 64 Squadron engaged 30 Ju 88s from III./KG 4 heavily protected by over 50 Bf 109s. Three more Spitfires from the same Squadron scrambled followed by 12 Hurricanes from 111 Squadron RAF at Hawkinge. Using head-on attacks, the British broke up the formation which abandoned the attack. The Bf 109s covered their retreat. Soon afterwards a large raid was directed at all shipping in the Dover vicinity. One convoy was attacked by Ju 87s, once again from Ju 87s from 11.(Stuka)/LG 1 and III./StG 1, off Folkstone and lost five ships sunk and four damaged including the destroyers Boreas and Brilliant. No 56 Squadron arrived in time to rescue the destroyers from further attacks. The Kriegsmarine chose this time to deploy nine E-Boats against the convoy and hit three with gunfire. Three Spitfires from 64 and 10 from 54 Squadron joined the battle. The Bf 109s kept the RAF fighters from the Ju 87s and shot down one Spitfire, killing its pilot. Some of the Ju 87s were damaged by naval gunfire. In the last action of the day two Bf 109s from JG 52 fell to 610 Squadron. During the battle Squadron Leader Thompson AOC 111 Squadron complained that he was twice attacked in error by Spitfires.
Losses were considerable for Fighter Command considering the small scale fighting. No. 32 Squadron lost a Hurricane damaged and a pilot wounded; 54 Squadron three Spitfires and two pilots killed; 64 Squadron two Spitfires and one damaged with two pilots killed. 152 Squadron also lost one pilot killed in action with Bf 109s. II./KG 51 lost one Ju 88; StG 1 lost one Do 17 and one Ju 87; III./JG 27 lost one Bf 109 and JG 52 reported the loss of four Bf 109s. A further KG 4 Ju 88 was lost over the Bristol Channel as was another He 111, lost off Wick. The following day saw just two losses for the Luftwaffe and one for the RAF as the heavy rains engulfed the Channel.
27 July: Battle over BOSOM II
Early on 27 July news reached Luftflotte 3 in Paris that a large convoy, codename BOSOM, was moving out of Portland. He ordered a strike immediately. 30 Ju 87s from I./StG 77 took off from Caen at 08:00, picking up their Bf 109 escort from JG 27 en route. No. 10 Group RAF dispatched three Hurricanes from RAF Middle Wallop, arriving just as the Ju 87s began to begin their attacks. Only one Ju 87 was shot down before the Bf 109s drove the Hurricanes away. BOSOM reached Swanage at 09:45 and a second wave of Ju 87s hit the ships. Nine RAF fighters attempted to intervene but failed and lost one of their number killed in action (from 610 Squadron). Later, Hurricanes from 615 dispatched another He 59 in the region of Deal. It was the He 111's that achieved the greatest success on this day. Attacking shipping off Dover, they sank two destroyers, the Codrington at Dover and Wren off Aldeburgh with heavy bombs. KG 53 took credit for the latter vessel. The attack cost KG 53 one He 111 which likely fell in battle with 504 Squadron.
The summer storms of the previous night had subsided. Sunday 28 July 1940 was sunny and clear. Spitfires of 234 Squadron were ordered to investigate a plot south of Plymouth. The discovered a II./LG 1 Ju 88 searching for convoys and shot it down with only two survivors. Heavy attacks were anticipated and the Biggin Hill, North Weald and Hornchurch Sector Controllers moved eight squadrons to Hawkinge, Manston and Martlesham. There was one major action fought on this day.
At 13:50 a large raid was detected forming up and heading to Dover. 74 Squadron under the command of Adolph Malan took off to intercept. Several other units were sent to support them with instructions that the Hurricanes attack bombers and Spitfires engaged the Bf 109s. For unknown reasons the German bombers flew off to the south without dropping any bombs and Malan engaged I. and II./JG 51 led by the 20-victory ace and Geschwaderkommodore Werner Mölders—his first mission over England. An intense dogfight erupted over the Channel. The Bf 109s were engaged by 41 Squadron who assisted Malan's hard-pressed 74 Squadron. Malan destroyed one Bf 109 before damaging a second. Legend has it that this was Mölders himself but detailed research suggests a 41 Squadron Spitfire was the culprit. JG 51 suffered three Bf 109s shot down with two pilots killed and one missing. Three force-landed; one with 20% damage, and other 50%, while Mölders' machine was 80% damaged and he was wounded. 74 Squadron lost three Spitfires shot down with two wounded and one killed. One Bf 109 from II./JG 27 and another from III./JG 53 force landed with battle damage and two wounded pilots at this time probably after being attacked by Spitfires from 41 Squadron. Two Ju 88s from 9./KG 4 suffered damage from ground fire over the Thames Estuary—one crew member was killed and seven more wounded aboard the aircraft. Seenotflugkommando 1 and 3 lost a He 59 each in attempted rescues of downed airmen in the Channel. KG 4 were engaged in mine laying operations in July.
29 July: Destroyers withdraw
The dawn mist cleared and fine weather and cloudless skies promised much German activity. Kent Sector Operations Rooms received news of a German build-up over Calais. There were two sizeable convoys in the Channel in 11 Group's sector but the controllers were not prepared to send large formations up until the Germans showed their hand. At 07:20 it became clear to the controllers as the convoy passed down the Dover straits neither was the target. The Luftwaffe formations were heading towards Dover harbour. 11 Spitfires from the much-used 41 Squadron were ordered to attack the right flank and 12 Hurricanes of 501 Squadron from Hawkinge were to hit the German left. The German formation consisted of 48 Ju 87s from six Staffeln of IV.(Stuka)./LG 1, II./StG 1 and II./StG 3. The escort consisted of 80 Bf 109s from JG 51 and III./JG 26, the former led by Galland—Mölders was out for action from the previous day.
The lead fighter formation had positioned itself on the extreme right so as to be looking down-sun at his charges. Galland thus had given his unit an opportunity to attack any RAF fighter that attempted to attack the Stuka flights. 41 Squadron dived to attack the Ju 87s but were unseen by III./JG 26 which did not see any enemy aircraft. JG 51 Bf 109s engaged the attacking RAF fighters. The Spitfires were split against the escorts. 41 Squadron lost one Spitfire shot down and its pilot killed. Four were damaged and forced to crash-land. While 41 was engaging the Bf 109s 501 Squadron struck at the Ju 87s as the Germans began their dives. The harbour suffered little damage. StG 1 and LG 1 lost two each and II./StG 3 reported one damaged. 501 suffered no losses. The steamer SS Gronland was sunk in the outer Dover Harbour, already crippled in the attacks of the 25 July. Nineteen crew were killed. The patrol yacht Gulzar was sunk also with the crew safe. The crippled Sandhurst was also destroyed. The men of Sandhurst received six mentions in dispatches and the Dover port personnel were awarded four George Medals—the last to Tug Harbour Master Captain F.J Hopgood.
The Germans were determined not to allow the convoys to escape unscathed. III./KG 76 sent low-flying Ju 88s to bomb them. Escaping radar attention the hit the shipping formation but scored no direct or near misses. The Gruppenkommandeur Adolf Genth was killed flew into a balloon cable of Dungeness and another was lost with its crew when it was shot down by anti-aircraft cannons mounted on the escort ships. Observers called for fighter assistance by 610 Spitfires arrived to intercept and the Ju 88s were long gone. The other convoy was targeted by Oberst Johannes Fink's KG 2. A Dornier from the Stab. Staffell spotted it and reported its position. It was chased to the French coast by Spitfires from 85 Squadron and damaged but the pilot force-landed. It landed at Saint-Inglevert Airfield not far from the headquarters of Erprobungskommando 210. at St. Omer. Eight Bf 110s from 1 and three machines from 2 Staffel were met near Dunkirk by 30 Bf 110s from ZG 26. They were attacked by 151 Squadron Hurricanes. In the ensuing battle two Hurricanes force-land and pilots walked away unhurt. One Erpro 210 Bf 110 was damaged and ZG 26 suffered no losses. The raid was a success. The attackers claimed a hit on a 1,000 and 8,000 ton ship.
At 19:25 III./StG 2 Ju 87s led by Gruppenkommandeur Walter Enneccerus caught and sank the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Delight 13 miles off Portland. The ship was crippled and burning as the Stukas left the scene unchallenged. Delight limped back to the coast off Portland. The destroyers Vansittart and Broke rescued 147 men and 59 wounded. All but 19 of the crew survived the attack. The vessel remained afloat but on fire. At 21:30 there was a large explosion and she sank sometime after. The central section of her hull is there to this day, inverted on the seabed. Her bow is twisted and broken off and her stern blown apart, exposing propeller shafts and steering gear down to the keel. The Admiralty withdrew all destroyer flotilla's from the Channel and ordered no convoy to traverse the Channel in daylight. This order may have been in place on 27 July before she sailed, with some sources noting she sailed in daylight in direct contravention of standing orders.
There was no desire on the part of the Admiralty to maintain a Destroyer flotilla at Dover. Only one seaworthy destroyer, Vivacious, remained. She was used to escort the crippled Walpole and the damaged Brilliant, towed by the Lady Brassey to Sheerness. Skate was lent to Dover Command by Portsmouth—she was the oldest destroyer in the Royal Navy—in a bid to make up the numbers. The badly mauled Dover force was also reinforced by HMS Bulldog until the return of the damaged vessels.
30 July–7 August: Weather and relative quiet
On 30 July Britain was covered in low cloud and continuous rains. Dowding was anxious and his staff believed the Germans would use the weather to cloak their attacks. Numerous patrols were sent over convoys and minesweeper units. The Germans chose not to operate in strength. He 111's from KG 26 harassed the Scottish coast from bases in Norway. Near Suffolk two Bf 110s belonging to Erprobungsgruppe 210 were caught by Geoffrey Allard and his wingman stalking a convoy. After a long chase one of the Germans was shot down. The following day the weather improved by heavy haze shrouded lower England. The Luftwaffe attempted some raids but could not find their targets. The RAF made two interceptions and Hurricanes from 111 Squadron damaged a Ju 88 from III./KG 76.
Nothing of note occurred until 16:00. Six Squadrons containing 30 Spitfires and 24 Hurricanes were scrambled to Dover where Bf 109s were strafing barrage balloons in an apparent attempt to clear a path for an attack. Only 12 Spitfires from 74 Squadron led by Adolph Malan engaged two staffeln of JG 2 under the command of Harry von Bülow-Bothkamp. One flight from 74 engaged the Bf 109s at equal height but the second flight was attacked while climbing and lost two Spitfires and one pilot killed. The day ended with one 7./JG 2 Bf 109 destroyed and one pilot wounded in exchange for two Spitfires and one damaged. The RAF lost two pilots killed.
The following day, 1 August 1940, Dowding increased the formal authorisation to increase the established strength of each squadron. It was changed to a pre-Battle of France figure of 20 plus two in reserve. Fighter Command's number of pilots also increased. Some 1,414 pilots were in service in July compared to a required figure of 1,454. The success of pilot training which was making good losses at this point, encouraged Dowding to increase that figure to a minimum of 1,588 pilots creating a deficiency on paper that has led to the belief the British were significantly short of pilots. The number of combat-ready pilots would never dip below the number available at the end of July. Dowding's real fear lay in the quality of pilots. He lost more than 80 regular pilots and flight commanders whose place was taken by less experienced men.
On 1 August a few skirmishes took place in which a few German naval aircraft were lost. A Henschel Hs 126 was shot down by 145 Hurricanes but not before a well-aimed burst from the German gunner killed one of the British pilots. Both German airmen were posted missing. I./KG 4 penetrated the coast near Norfolk while Wing Commander Walter Beisiegel, the Coltishall Sector Controller was distracted organising convoy protection. The unit damaged the Boulton-Paul factories near Norwich and the Thorpe railway goods yards and made good their escape, despite 66 and 242 Squadron airfields that were positioned 10 minutes flying time away. On 2 August KG 26 He 111s attacked a convoy near Scotland. Anti-aircraft fire brought one down which landed squarely on the deck of the steamer Highlander. It steamed to Leith where the aircraft was displayed. Another He 111 was shot down. Erprobungsgruppe 210 sank the trawler Cape Finisterre (590 tons). For the next five days both sides suffered virtually no combat casualties.
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 known 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 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 2,000 ft gave the convoy cover. Visibility ranged from 2—5 nautical miles. As it rounded Dover, it had ample cover from 32, 615 and 501 Squadron 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 within a minute of beginning the attack. The British were so stunned by the attack and the noise of the S-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. The resultant light allowed Fife Coast to be identified and she was hit and sank. The destroyer 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. Richthofen's Fliegerkorps VIII dispatched II. and II./StG 1 to attack the convoy.
8 August: Air battle over PEEWIT
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 with her cargo of Wheat. 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. JG 27 lost nine Bf 109s destroyed in the days fighting.
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.
III./JG 26, II. and III./JG 51 flew a fighter patrol to clear the skies before the assault. They engaged Nos. 41, 64 and 65 Squadrons. The Germans claimed eight Spitfires in air battles around 12:55 CET. Among the claimants were Joachim Müncheberg (11th) and Gerhard Schöpfel (nos 5–6). Schöpfel claimed a Bristol Blenheim which had taken off from Manston in the midst of the battle. The Blenheim was from 600 Squadron which was lost with its crew. One 64 Squadron Spitfire was shot down with the pilot seriously wounded at 12:07 GMT—the same time and location. 41 Squadron suffered no losses and likely damaged a II./JG 53 and III./JG 54 Bf 109 that arrived on the scene. 65 Squadron suffered two Spitfire losses: both were recorded at 10:45 GMT, earlier than the German claims at 12:55 CET.
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. 152 and 238 Squadrons attempted interceptions but failed to make contact with the attackers. 152 did clash with Bf 109s from JG 53 12 miles south of Swanage. Two Spitfires force-landed with battle damage; the pilots unhurt.
11 August: BOOTY, AGENT, ARENA
The Luftwaffe was largely inactive on 9 and 10 August. The anticipated Adlerangriff (Operation Eagle Attack) had not materialised. The events of 11 August 1940 increased the ferocity and tempo of German air operations now that a large period of clear and fine weather was predicted. The day's operation amounted to a coordinated attack on No. 10, 11 and 12 Groups coupled with naval interdiction activity in the Channel. Kesselring hoped to draw out and disperse Park's defences by sending out large numbers of single staffeln. With the exception of the early morning, Park did not take the bait. While a high proportion of No. 11 Group aircraft were forced into the air it did not achieve Kesselring's aim of attracting enforcements from other RAF Groups.
In the morning Hauptmann Walter Rubensdörffer led Erprobungsgruppe 210 and 17 Bf 110s on a strafing attack on Dover. Covered by a flight of Bf 109s the escort dispatched three barrage balloons from No. 961 Balloon Squadron. The Bf 110s released light bombs but did little damage. Park reacted by committing 74 Squadron under the command of Adolph Malan. The unit ran into three staffeln of Bf 109s from JG 51. The closing speed was so fast a fleeting firing pass was made by opposing the fighters which resulted in one British pilot ditching in the sea, later to be rescued. No. 32 Hurricanes made an unsuccessful attempt to engage Bf 109s at this time. The only other combat of note in the morning was a battle between I./JG 2 and 64 Squadron. The battle resulted in the destruction of two Bf 109s—one pilot was wounded and another killed.
Park soon identified the naval base at Portland as the Germans' main objective for the day. Radar detected a large build-up over the Cherbourg peninsula. He ordered No. 609 and No. 1 Squadron up from Warmwell and Tangmere. Six other units from Middle Wallop and Exeter, Tangmere and Warmwell were ordered to readiness. Some 53 fighters were now involved. The enemy approached in strength in the late morning. Around 54 Ju 88s from I., and II./KG 54 were supported by 20 He 111s from KG 27. I., and II./ZG 2 provided 61 Bf 110s as escort which were reinforced by 30 Bf 109s from III./JG 2 under the command of Erich Mix. JG 27 provided withdrawal cover. It was the largest raid yet sent against a British target. Within a minute from 10:04, 145, 152, 87, 213 and 238 Squadrons were scrambled to support the two airborne Squadrons.
The Bf 109s and Bf 110s arrived ahead of the bombers. 609 Squadron attacked, the flight containing future ace John Dundas. The battle commenced at 23,000 feet. Squadron leader Horace Darley led the Spitfires onto the flank of the enemy Bf 110s and fired full-deflection shots which enabled his pilots to avoid the powerful frontal guns of the German heavy fighters. The attack shot down five of the Bf 110s. Among the dead was Gruppenkommodore Major Ott, shot down by Noel Agazarian. Most of the British units fell for the trap, and became engaged with the escort with only four 152 Spitfires spotting the bombers as they headed for Portland and Weymouth. The He 111s bombed from 15,000 feet while the Ju 88s dropped to 10,000 feet and hit the oil storage tanks. The destroyer HMS Esk was damaged at Harwich while HMS Scimitar and HMS Skate were damaged in Portland. HMS Windsor was damaged off Botany Buoy. The armed trawler HMT Edwardian was run aground at North Foreland to prevent it sinking. The trawler Peter Carey was severely damaged and the steamer Kirnwood and tanker Oil Trader were hit.
JG 27 were involved in combat as they covered the raid's withdrawal. JG 27 lost three of its number to 238 and 145 squadrons but the German fighters destroyed four 238 Hurricanes and killed four pilots while damaging another. 145 suffered two damaged and two destroyed and two pilots killed. The massive dogfight resulted in the loss of 16 Hurricanes with 13 pilots killed and two wounded. A 152 Spitfire was lost and its pilot drowned. German losses amounted to six Bf 110s, five Ju 88s, one He 111, and six Bf 109s. The number of aircraft lost over the Channel prompted both sides to send forces out to locate survivors. Two Blenheims from 604 covered by No. 152 Spitfires scouted the Dover–Calais straits. They came across a solitary He 59 protected by Bf 109s. The Spitfires held off the German fighters while the Blenheims destroyed the He 59. 610 also caught and destroyed a He 59 but were caught by Bf 109s and lost two pilots killed.
The day's events came to a close with a final attack on convoys out at sea. BOOTY and AGENT and ARENA were the prime targets. Walter Rubensdörffer led Erprobungsgruppe 210 off the Harwich–Clacton coast at noon GMT. The Germans spotted the ships and began their bombing run against BOOTY. Rubensdörffer and his Zerstörer were accompanied by eight Dornier Do 17s from the specialist 9./KG 2, whose crews were adept at low-level attacks for which their bombers were well suited. Twenty Bf 110s from ZG 26 provided high cover for the bomb-laden attack groups. The formations were intercepted by Spitfires from 74 and 85 squadrons while six Hurricanes from 17 Squadron attacked. 85 Squadron led by Peter Townsend dispatched three Bf 110s while the Hurricanes downed another. Two Bf 110s were damaged as were three Do 17s. Rubensdörffer's group attacked and withdrew. It was followed by another raid, designed to catch those fighters already in combat when they were low on fuel and unable to assist. The German pilots in ZG 26, although limited in performance by their heavier aircraft, defended their charges skillfully and tenaciously and destroyed one Hurricane and damaged another from 17 Squadron killing one pilot. Two pilots from 74 Squadron—whose leader Malan was not present—were shot down and killed. 85 Squadron remained unscathed.
The second wave of 45 Do 17s and a staffel of Ju 87s from II./StG 1 and IV./LG 1 arrived over the Thames Estuary to hit AGENT and ARENA, which were now hugging the coast. The formation was protected by Bf 109s belonging to JG 26 and led by Adolf Galland. 111 and 74 Hurricanes and Spitfires were scrambled. Malan headed the British response and he himself claimed a Bf 109 which crash-landed in France. One StG 1 Ju 87 also fell to his unit before they were forced to defend themselves against defending Bf 109s. German records say a 9./KG 4 Do 17 was lost to Hurricanes but no corresponding claim can be found in British records. 111 Hurricanes bore the brunt of the German counter-attack. No less than four were shot down with one crash-landed. Four pilots were killed with two believed to have drowned. The weather forced the Germans to wind down operations in the early afternoon and a temporary lull began. It would last only until the following morning when German strategy moved inland and the Battle of Britain began in earnest with Adlertag. The raid sank two naval trawlers—Tamarisk and Pyrope killing 12 seamen.
Effects on British trade
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- Evans 2010, p. 40.
- North 2012, p. 83.
- Mason 1969, p. 199.
- Saunders 2013, pp. 39–43.
- Smith 2007, p. 111.
- Smith 2007, pp. 108–109.
- Mason 1969, p. 200.
- Mason 1969, p. 204.
- Mason 1969, pp. 207–212.
- Saunders 2010, pp. 26–36.
- Saunders 2010, pp. 37–61.
- Saunders 2010, pp. 62-63.
- Saunders 2013, pp. 46–47.
- Mason 1969, pp. 217–218.
- Saunders 2010, pp. 62–76.
- Saunders 2010, pp. 77–99.
- Saunders 2010, pp. 100–112.
- Caldwell 1998, pp. 50–51.
- Mason 1969, pp. 217–219.
- Saunders 2013, p. 76.
- Mason 1969, pp. 222–226.
- North 2012, p. 117.
- Mason 1969, pp. 227–229.
- Mackay 2000, p. 50.
- Shores 1985, p. 46.
- North 2012, p. 119.
- 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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