October 31 This Day During World War ll

October 31, 1940 – The Battle of Britain is the name given to the Second World War air campaign waged by the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) against the United Kingdom during the summer and autumn of 1940. The name is derived from a famous speech delivered by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the House of Commons: “…the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.” The Battle of Britain was the first major campaign to be fought entirely by air forces, and was also the largest and most sustained aerial bombing campaign to that date. The objective of the campaign was to gain air superiority over the Royal Air Force (RAF), especially Fighter Command. From July 1940, coastal shipping convoys and shipping centres, such as Portsmouth, were the main targets; one month later the Luftwaffe shifted its attacks to RAF airfields and infrastructure. As the battle progressed the Luftwaffe also targeted aircraft factories and ground infrastructure. Eventually the Luftwaffe resorted to attacking areas of political significance and using terror bombing strategy. The failure of Germany to achieve its objectives of destroying Britain’s air defences, or forcing Britain to negotiate an armistice or an outright surrender, is considered its first major defeat and a crucial turning point in the Second World War. By preventing Germany from gaining air superiority, the battle ended the threat that Hitler would launch Operation Sea Lion, a proposed amphibious and airborne invasion of Britain. The early stages of the Second World War saw successful German invasions on the continent supported by Luftwaffe air power able to establish tactical air superiority. In early May 1940, the Norway Debate questioned the fitness for office of the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. On 10 May, the Germans invaded France, and on the same day Winston Churchill became British Prime Minister. RAF Fighter Command was desperately short of trained pilots and aircraft, but despite the objections of its commander Hugh Dowding that this left home defences under-strength, Churchill sent fighter squadrons to support operations in France, where the RAF suffered heavy losses. After the evacuation of British and French soldiers from Dunkirk and the French surrender on 22 June 1940, Hitler was mainly focused on the possibilities of invading the Soviet Union while believing that the British, defeated on the continent and without European allies, would quickly come to terms. Germans were so convinced of an imminent armistice that they began constructing street decorations for homecoming parades of victorious troops. Although the Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, and an element of British public and political sentiment favoured a negotiated peace with an ascendant Germany, Churchill and a majority of his Cabinet refused to consider an armistice with Hitler. Instead, Churchill used his skilful rhetoric to harden public opinion against capitulation, and to prepare the British for a long war. In his “This was their finest hour” speech on 18 June 1940, he said “the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.” After a series of victories, Germany ruled most of central Europe; from Poland to France, Denmark and Norway. Hitler hoped for a negotiated peace with Britain, but had made no preparations for amphibious assault on a hostile shore; at the time, the only forces with modern equipment and experience were the Japanese at the Battle of Wuhan. On 11 July, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, Commander-in-Chief of the Kriegsmarine (German Navy), told Hitler that an invasion could only be contemplated as a last resort, and only after full air superiority had been achieved. The Kriegsmarine had been nearly crippled by the Norwegian Campaign, with many of its ships having been sunk or damaged, while the Royal Navy still had over 50 destroyers, 21 cruisers and eight battleships in the British Home Fleet. There was little the weakened Kriegsmarine could do to stop the Royal Navy from intervening. The only alternative was to use the Luftwaffe’s dive bombers and torpedo bombers, which required air superiority to operate effectively. Grand Admiral Raeder said, “A powerful and effective air force might create conditions favourable for an invasion, whether it could was not in the Navy War Staff’s province.” On 16 July, although he agreed with Raeder, Hitler ordered the preparation of a plan to invade Britain; he also hoped that news of the preparations would frighten Britain into peace negotiations. “Directive No. 16; On the Preparation of a Landing Operation against England” read, in part, as follows: Since England, despite its militarily hopeless situation, still has not shown any signs of being prepared to negotiate, I have decided to prepare a landing operation against England and, if necessary, carry it out. The objective of this operation is to eliminate the English home country as a base for the continuation of the war against Germany… 2) Included in these preparations is the bringing about of those preconditions which make a landing in England possible; a) The English air force must have been beaten down to such an extent morally and in fact that it can no longer muster any power of attack worth mentioning against the German crossing. All preparations were to be made by mid-August. For secrecy, this directive was only issued to Commanders in Chief, but Hermann Göring passed it on to his Luftwaffe Air Fleet commanders by coded radio messages, which were intercepted by Britain’s Y-Service and successfully decrypted by Hut 6 at Bletchley Park. The Kriegsmarine produced a draft plan for achieving a narrow beachhead near Dover. On 28 July the army responded that they wanted landings all along the South Coast of England. Hitler held a meeting of his army and navy chiefs on 31 July in his Berghof, and on 1 August the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or “High Command of the Armed Forces”) issued its plan. The plan, code named Unternehmen Seelöwe (“Operation Sea Lion”), was scheduled to take place in mid-September 1940. Seelöwe called for landings on the south coast of Great Britain, backed by an airborne assault. Neither Hitler nor OKW believed it would be possible to carry out a successful amphibious assault on Britain until the RAF had been neutralised. Raeder believed that air superiority might make a successful landing possible although it would be a risky operation and required “absolute mastery over the Channel by our air forces”. Conversely, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz believed air superiority was “not enough”. Dönitz stated, “we possessed neither control of the air or the sea; nor were we in any position to gain it.” Some writers, such as Derek Robinson, have agreed with Dönitz. Robinson argues that the massive superiority of the Royal Navy over the Kriegsmarine would have made Sea Lion a disaster and the Luftwaffe could not have prevented decisive intervention by British cruisers and destroyers, even with air superiority. Williamson Murray argued that the task facing the Germans in summer 1940 was beyond their capabilities. The three German armed services were not capable of solving the problem of invading the British Isles. Murray contends that the Kriegsmarine had been effectively eliminated owing to heavy losses during the Norwegian Campaign. Murray states it is doubtful that the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe could have prevented the Royal Navy engaging the invasion fleet. The Luftwaffe had not been represented at the Berghof, but Göring was confident that air victory was possible. Like many commanders in other air forces, including the RAF, he was convinced by the ideas of Giulio Douhet that “The bomber will always get through” and if attacks on military targets failed, bombing civilians could force the British government to surrender. Channel battles The Kanalkampf comprised a series of running fights over convoys in the English Channel. It was launched partly because Kesselring and Sperrle were not sure about what else to do, and partly because it gave German aircrews some training and a chance to probe the British defences. Dowding could only provide minimal shipping protection, and these battles off the coast tended to favour the Germans, whose bomber escorts had the advantage of altitude and outnumbered the RAF fighters. From 9 July reconnaissance probing by Dornier Do 17 bombers put a severe strain on RAF pilots and machines, with high RAF losses to Bf 109s. When nine 141 Squadron Defiants went into action on 19 July six were lost to Bf 109s before a squadron of Hurricanes intervened. On 25 July a coal convoy and escorting destroyers suffered such heavy losses to attacks by Stuka dive bombers that the British Admiralty decided convoys should travel at night: the RAF shot down 16 raiders but lost 7 aircraft. By 8 August 18 coal ships and 4 destroyers had been sunk, but the Navy was determined to send a convoy of 20 ships through rather than move the coal by railway. After repeated Stuka attacks that day, six ships were badly damaged, four were sunk and only four reached their destination. The RAF lost 19 fighters and shot down 31 German aircraft. The Navy now cancelled all further convoys through the Channel and sent the cargo by rail. However, these early combat encounters provided both sides with experience. The main attack upon the RAF’s defences was code-named Adlerangriff (“Eagle Attack”). Poor weather delayed Adlertag (“Eagle Day”) until 13 August 1940. On 12 August, the first attempt was made to blind the Dowding system, when aircraft from the specialist fighter-bomber unit Erprobungsgruppe 210 attacked four radar stations. Three were briefly taken off the air but were back working within six hours. The raids appeared to show that British radars were difficult to knock out. The failure to mount follow-up attacks allowed the RAF to get the stations back on the air, and the Luftwaffe neglected strikes on the supporting infrastructure, such as phone lines and power stations, which could have rendered the radars useless, even if the towers themselves (which were very difficult to destroy) remained intact. Adlertag opened with a series of attacks, led again by Epro 210 on coastal airfields used as forward landing grounds for the RAF fighters, as well as ‘satellite airfields (including Manston and Hawkinge). As the week drew on, the airfield attacks moved further inland, and repeated raids were made on the radar chain. 15 August was “The Greatest Day” when the Luftwaffe mounted the largest number of sorties of the campaign. Luftflotte 5 attacked the north of England. Believing Fighter Command strength to be concentrated in the south, raiding forces from Denmark and Norway ran into unexpectedly strong resistance. Inadequately escorted by Bf 110s, bombers were shot down in large numbers. North East England was attacked by 65 Heinkel 111s escorted by 34 Messerschmitt 110s, and RAF Great Driffield was attacked by 50 unescorted Junkers 88s. Out of 115 bombers and 35 fighters sent, 16 bombers and 7 fighters were destroyed. As a result of these casualties, Luftflotte 5 did not appear in strength again in the campaign. 18 August, which had the greatest number of casualties to both sides, has been dubbed “The Hardest Day”. Following the grinding battles of 18 August, exhaustion and the weather reduced operations for most of a week, allowing the Luftwaffe to review their performance. “The Hardest Day” had sounded the end for the Ju 87 in the campaign. This veteran of Blitzkrieg was too vulnerable to fighters to operate over Britain, and to preserve the Stuka force, Göring withdrew them from the fighting. This removed the main Luftwaffe precision-bombing weapon and shifted the burden of pinpoint attacks on the already-stretched Erpro 210. The Bf 110 proved too clumsy for dogfighting with single-engined fighters, and its participation was scaled back. It would only be used when range required it or when sufficient single-engined escort could not be provided for the bombers. Göring made yet another fateful decision: to order more bomber escorts at the expense of free-hunting sweeps. To achieve this, the weight of the attack now fell on Luftflotte 2, and the bulk of the Bf 109s in Luftflotte 3 were transferred to Kesselring’s command, reinforcing the fighter bases in the Pas-de-Calais. Stripped of its fighters, Luftflotte 3 would concentrate on the night bombing campaign. Göring, expressing disappointment with the fighter performance thus far in the campaign, also made sweeping changes in the command structure of the fighter units, replacing many Geschwaderkommodore with younger, more aggressive pilots like Adolf Galland and Werner Mölders. Finally, Göring stopped the attacks on the radar chain. These were seen as unsuccessful, and neither the Reichsmarschall nor his subordinates realised how vital the Chain Home stations were to the defence. It was known that radar provided some early warning of raids, but the belief among German fighter pilots was that anything bringing up the “Tommies” to fight was to be encouraged. Göring ordered attacks on aircraft factories on 19 August 1940; on 23 August 1940 he ordered that RAF airfields be attacked. That evening an attack was mounted on a tyre factory in Birmingham. Raids on airfields continued through 24 August, and Portsmouth was hit by a major attack. That night, several areas of London were bombed; the East End was set ablaze and bombs landed on central London. Some historians believe that these bombs were dropped accidentally by a group of Heinkel He 111s which had failed to find their target; this account has been contested. In retaliation, the RAF bombed Berlin on the night of 25–26 August, and continued bombing raids on Berlin. Göring’s pride was hurt, as he had previously claimed the British would never be able to bomb the city. The attacks enraged Hitler, who ordered retaliatory attacks on London. ***** From 24 August onwards, the battle was a fight between Kesselring’s Luftflotte 2 and Park’s 11 Group. The Luftwaffe concentrated all their strength on knocking out Fighter Command and made repeated attacks on the airfields. Of the 33 heavy attacks in the following two weeks, 24 were against airfields. The key sector stations were hit repeatedly: Biggin Hill and Hornchurch four times each; Debden and North Weald twice each. Croydon, Gravesend, Rochford, Hawkinge and Manston were also attacked in strength. Coastal Command’s Eastchurch was bombed at least seven times because it was believed to be a Fighter Command aerodrome. At times these raids caused some damage to the sector stations, threatening the integrity of the Dowding system. To offset some losses, some 58 Fleet Air Arm fighter pilot volunteers were seconded to RAF squadrons, and a similar number of former Fairey Battle pilots were used. Most replacements from Operational Training Units (OTUs) had as little as nine hours flying time and no gunnery or air-to-air combat training. At this point, the multinational nature of Fighter Command came to the fore. Many squadrons and personnel from the air forces of the Dominions were already attached to the RAF, including top level commanders – Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, Rhodesians and South Africans. In addition, there were other nationalities represented, including Free French, Belgian and a Jewish pilot from the British mandate of Palestine. They were bolstered by the arrival of fresh Czechoslovak and Polish squadrons. These had been held back by Dowding, who mistakenly thought non-English speaking aircrew would have trouble working within his control system. However, Polish and Czech fliers proved to be especially effective. The pre-war Polish Air Force had lengthy and extensive training, and high standards; with Poland conquered and under brutal German occupation, the pilots of No. 303 (Polish) Squadron, the highest-scoring Allied unit, were strongly motivated. Josef František, a Czech regular airman who had flown from the occupation of his own country to join the Polish and then French air forces before arriving in Britain, flew as a guest of 303 Squadron and was ultimately credited with the highest “RAF score” in the Battle of Britain. The RAF had the advantage of fighting over home territory. Pilots who bailed out of their downed aircraft could be back at their airfields within hours, while if low on fuel and/or ammunition they could be immediately rearmed. One RAF pilot interviewed in late 1940 had been shot down five times during the Battle of Britain, but was able to crash land in Britain or bail out each time. For Luftwaffe aircrews, a bailout over England meant capture – in the critical August period the Luftwaffe lost almost exactly as many pilots as prisoners as were killed – while parachuting into the English Channel often meant drowning or death from exposure. Morale began to suffer, and Kanalkrankheit (“Channel sickness”) – a form of combat fatigue – began to appear among the German pilots. Their replacement problem was even worse than the British. The effect of the German attacks on airfields is unclear. According to Stephen Bungay Dowding, in a letter to Hugh Trenchard accompanying Park’s report on the period 8 August – 10 September 1940, states that the Luftwaffe “achieved very little” in the last week of August and the first week of September. The only Sector Station to be shut down operationally was Biggin Hill, and it was non-operational for just two hours. Dowding admitted 11 Group’s efficiency was impaired but, despite serious damage to some airfields, only two out of 13 heavily attacked airfields were down for more than a few hours. The German refocus on London was not critical. Retired air marshal Peter Dye, head of the RAF Museum, discussed the logistics of the battle in 2000 and 2010, dealing specifically with the single-seat fighters. Dye contends that not only was British aircraft production replacing aircraft, but replacement pilots were keeping pace with losses. The number of pilots in RAF Fighter Command increased during July, August and September. The figures indicate the number of pilots available never decreased. From July, 1,200 were available. In 1 August, 1,400 were available. Just over that number were in the field by September. In October the figure was nearly 1,600. By 1 November 1,800 were available. Throughout the battle, the RAF had more fighter pilots available than the Luftwaffe. Although the RAF’s reserves of single seat fighters fell during July, the wastage was made up for by an efficient Civilian Repair Organisation (CRO), which by December had repaired and put back into service some 4,955 aircraft, and by aircraft held at Air Servicing Unit (ASU) airfields. Richard Overy agrees with Dye and Bungay. Overy asserts only one airfield was temporarily put out of action and “only” 103 pilots were lost. British fighter production produced 496 new aircraft in July and 467 in August, and another 467 in September (not counting repaired aircraft), covering the losses of August and September. Overy indicates the number of serviceable and total strength returns reveal an increase in fighters from 3 August to 7 September, 1,061 on strength and 708 serviceable to 1,161 on strength and 746 serviceable. Moreover, Overy points out that the number of RAF fighter pilots grew by one-third between June and August 1940. Personnel records show a constant supply of around 1,400 pilots in the crucial weeks of the battle. In the second half of September it reached 1,500. The shortfall of pilots was never above 10 percent. The Germans never had more than between 1,100 and 1,200 pilots, a deficiency of up to one-third. “If Fighter Command were ‘the few’, the German fighter pilots were fewer”. Other scholars assert that this period was the most dangerous of all. In The Narrow Margin, published in 1961, historians Derek Wood and Derek Dempster believed that the two weeks from 24 August to 6 September represented a real danger. According to them, from 24 August to 6 September 295 fighters had been totally destroyed and 171 badly damaged, against a total output of 269 new and repaired Spitfires and Hurricanes. They assert that 103 pilots were killed or missing and 128 were wounded, which represented a total wastage of 120 pilots per week out of a fighting strength of just fewer than 1,000. They conclude that during August no more than 260 fighter pilots were turned out by OTUs and casualties in the same month were just over 300. A full squadron establishment was 26 pilots whereas the average in August was 16. In their assessment, the RAF was losing the battle. Denis Richards, in his 1953 contribution to the official British account History of the Second World War, agreed that lack of pilots, especially experienced ones, was the RAF’s greatest problem. He states that between 8 and 18 August 154 RAF pilots were killed, severely wounded, or missing, while only 63 new pilots were trained. Available aircraft was also a serious issue. While its reserves during the Battle of Britain never declined to a half dozen planes as some later claimed, Richards describes 24 August to 6 September as the critical period because during these two weeks Germany destroyed far more aircraft through its attacks on 11 Group’s southeast bases than Britain was producing. Three more weeks of such a pace would indeed have exhausted aircraft reserves. Germany had seen heavy losses of pilots and aircraft as well, however, thus its shift to nighttime attacks in September. On 7 September RAF aircraft losses fell below British production and remained so until the end of the war. By this point Hitler was becoming impatient with the Luftwaffe. On 14 September, General Hans Jeschonnek, Luftwaffe Chief of Staff, persuaded Hitler for a last chance to defeat the RAF and sought permission to launch attacks on civilian residential areas to cause mass panic. Hitler refused the latter, perhaps unaware of just how much damage had already been done to civilian targets, as he wanted to reserve for himself the right to unleash the terror weapon. Political will was to be broken by the collapse of the material infrastructure, the weapons industry, along with the destruction of stocks of fuel and food. On 16 September, Göring ordered the air fleets to begin the new phase of the battle. Within two months, American journalist Ralph Ingersoll published a book after a visit to Britain which stated that “Adolf Hitler met his first defeat in eight years”—which might “go down in history as a battle as important as Waterloo or Gettysburg”—by reducing the intensity of the Blitz after 15 September. According to Ingersoll, “majority of responsible British officers who fought through this battle believe that if Hitler and Goering had had the courage and the resources to lose 200 planes a day for the next five days, nothing could have saved London”; instead, “[the Luftwaffe’s] morale in combat is definitely broken, and the RAF has been gaining in strength each week.” Hitler’s No. 17 Directive, issued on 1 August 1940 on the conduct of war against England specifically prohibited Luftwaffe from conducting terror raids on its own initiative, and reserved the right of ordering terror attacks as means of reprisal for the Führer himself: The war against England is to be restricted to destructive attacks against industry and air force targets which have weak defensive forces… The most thorough study of the target concerned, that is vital points of the target, is a pre-requisite for success. It is also stressed that every effort should be made to avoid unnecessary loss of life amongst the civilian population. The Luftwaffe offensive against Britain had included numerous raids on major ports since August, but Hitler had issued a directive London was not to be bombed save on his sole instruction. However, on the afternoon of 15 August, Hauptmann Walter Rubensdörffer leading Erprobungsgruppe 210 mistakenly bombed the Croydon airfield (on the outskirts of London) instead of the intended target, RAF Kenley; this was followed on the night of 23/24 August by the accidental bombing of Harrow, also on the outskirts of London, as well as raids on Aberdeen, Bristol, and South Wales. The focus on attacking airfields had also been accompanied by a sustained bombing campaign which began on 24 August with the largest raid so far, killing 100 in Portsmouth, and that evening the first night raid on London as described above. On 25 August 1940, 81 bombers of Bomber Command were sent out to raid industrial and commercial targets in Berlin. Clouds prevented accurate identification and the bombs fell across the city, causing some casualties amongst the civilian population as well as damage to residential areas. Continuing RAF raids on Berlin in retaliation led to Hitler withdrawing his directive, and on 3 September Göring planned to bomb London daily, with Kesselring’s enthusiastic support, having received reports the average strength of RAF squadrons was down to five or seven fighters out of 12 and their airfields in the area were out of action. Hitler issued a directive on 5 September to attack cities including London. In his speech delivered on 4 September 1940, Hitler threatened to obliterate (ausradieren) British cities if British bombing runs against Germany did not stop. On 7 September, a massive series of raids involving nearly four hundred bombers and more than six hundred fighters targeted docks in the East End of London, day and night. The raids were codenamed Operation Loge. The RAF anticipated attacks on airfields and 11 Group rose to meet them, in greater numbers than the Luftwaffe expected. The first official deployment of 12 Group’s Big Wing took twenty minutes to gain formation, missing its intended target, but encountering another formation of bombers while still climbing. They returned, apologetic about their limited success, and blamed the delay on being requested too late. Fighter Command had been at its lowest ebb, short of men and machines, and the break from airfield attacks allowed them to recover. 11 Group had considerable success in breaking up daytime raids. 12 Group repeatedly disobeyed orders and failed to meet requests to protect 11 Group airfields, but their experiments with increasingly large Big Wings had some successes. The Luftwaffe began to abandon their morning raids, with attacks on London starting late in the afternoon for 57 consecutive nights of attacks. The most damaging aspect to the Luftwaffe of the change in targets (to London) was the increase in range. The Bf 109 escorts had a limited fuel capacity, and by the time they arrived had only 10 minutes of flying time before they had to turn for home. This left many raids undefended by fighter escorts. On 14 September, Hitler chaired a meeting with the OKW staff. Göring was absent in France, as he had decided to direct the decisive part of the battle from there, and left Erhard Milch to deputise for him. At the meeting Hitler raised the question, “Should we call it off altogether?”. Hitler had accepted that an invasion with massive air cover was no longer possible. Instead he opted to try to crush British morale, while maintaining the threat of invasion. Hitler concluded this might result in “eight million going mad” (referring to the population of London in 1940), which would “cause a catastrophe” for the British. In those circumstances, Hitler said, “even a small invasion might go a long way”. At this point, Hitler was against cancelling the invasion as “the cancellation would reach the ears of the enemy and strengthen his resolve”. On 15 September, two massive waves of German attacks were decisively repulsed by the RAF, with every aircraft of 11 Group being used on that day. The total casualties on this critical day were 60 German and 26 RAF aircraft shot down. The German defeat caused Hitler to order, two days later, the postponement of preparations for the invasion of Britain. Henceforth, in the face of mounting losses in men, aircraft and the lack of adequate replacements, the Luftwaffe switched from daylight to nighttime bombing. The air battles on 15 September became known as the Battle of Britain Day. On 27 September, a Junkers Ju 88 returning from a raid on London was shot down in Kent, resulting in the Battle of Graveney Marsh, the last action between British and foreign military forces on British mainland soil. On 13 October, Hitler again postponed the invasion “until the spring of 1941”; however, the invasion never happened, and October is regarded as the month regular bombing of Britain ended. It was not until Hitler’s Directive 21 was issued, on 18 December 1940, that the threat of invasion finally dissipated. During the battle, and for the rest of the war, an important factor in keeping public morale high was the continued presence in London of King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth. When war broke out in 1939, the King and Queen decided to stay in London and not flee to Canada, as had been suggested. George VI and Elizabeth officially stayed in Buckingham Palace throughout the war, although they often spent weekends at Windsor Castle to visit their daughters, Elizabeth (the future queen) and Margaret. Buckingham Palace was damaged by bombs which landed in the grounds on 10 September and, on 13 September, more serious damage was caused by two bombs which destroyed the Royal Chapel. The royal couple were in a small sitting room about 80 yards from where the bombs exploded. On 24 September, in recognition of the bravery of civilians, King George VI inaugurated the award of the George Cross. Overall, by 2 November, the RAF fielded 1,796 pilots, an increase of over 40% from July 1940’s count of 1,259 pilots.Based on German sources (from a Luftwaffe intelligence officer Otto Bechtle attached to KG 2 in February 1944) translated by the Air Historical Branch, Stephen Bungay asserts German fighter and bomber “strength” declined without recovery, and that from August – December 1940, the German fighter and bomber strength declined by 30 and 25 percent. In contrast, Williamson Murray, asserts (using translations by the Air Historical Branch) that 1,380 German bombers were on strength on 29 June 1940, 1,420 bombers on 28 September, 1,423 level bombers on 2 November and 1,393 bombers on 30 November 1940. In July – September the number of Luftwaffe pilots available fell by 136, but the number of operational pilots had shrunk by 171 by September. The training organisation of the Luftwaffe was failing to replace losses. German fighter pilots, in contrast to popular perception, were not afforded training or rest rotations unlike their British counterparts. The first week of September accounted for 25 per cent of the Fighter Command, and 24 per cent of the Luftwaffe’s overall losses. Between the dates 26 August – 6 September, on only one day (1 September) did the Germans destroy more aircraft than they lost. Losses were 325 German and 248 British. Luftwaffe losses for August numbered 774 aircraft to all causes, representing 18.5 per cent of all combat aircraft at the beginning of the month. Fighter Command’s losses in August were 426 fighters destroyed, amounting to 40 per cent of 1,061 fighters available on 3 August. In addition, 99 bombers and 27 other types were destroyed between 1 and 29 August.  From July to September, the Luftwaffe’s loss records indicate the loss of 1,636 aircraft, 1,184 to enemy action.This represented 47 per cent of the initial strength of single-engined fighters, 66 per cent of twin-engined fighters, and 45 per cent of bombers. This indicates the Germans were running out of aircrews as well as aircraft. Throughout the battle, the Germans greatly underestimated the size of the RAF and the scale of British aircraft production. Across the Channel, the Air Intelligence division of the Air Ministry consistently overestimated the size of the German air enemy and the productive capacity of the German aviation industry. As the battle was fought, both sides exaggerated the losses inflicted on the other by an equally large margin. However, the intelligence picture formed before the battle encouraged the German Air Force to believe that such losses pushed Fighter Command to the very edge of defeat, while the exaggerated picture of German air strength persuaded the RAF that the threat it faced was larger and more dangerous than was the case. This led the British to the conclusion that another fortnight of attacks on airfields might force Fighter Command to withdraw their squadrons from the south of England. The German misconception, on the other hand, encouraged first complacency, then strategic misjudgement. The shift of targets from air bases to industry and communications was taken because it was assumed that Fighter Command was virtually eliminated. Between the 24 August and 4 September, German serviceability rates, which were acceptable at Stuka units, were running at 75% with Bf 109s, 70% with bombers and 65% with Bf 110s, indicating a shortage of spare parts. All units were well below established strength. The attrition was beginning to affect the fighters in particular.” By 14 September, the Luftwaffe’s Bf 109 Geschwader possessed only 67 percent of their operational crews against authorised aircraft. For Bf 110 units it was 46 per cent; and for bombers it was 59 per cent. A week later the figures had dropped to 64 per cent, 52 per cent and 52 per cent. Serviceability rates in Fighter Command’s fighter squadrons, between the 24 August and 7 September, were listed as: 64.8% on 24 August; 64.7% on 31 August and 64.25% on 7 September 1940. Due to the failure of the Luftwaffe to establish air supremacy, a conference assembled on 14 September at Hitler’s headquarters. Hitler concluded that air superiority had not yet been established and “promised to review the situation on 17 September for possible landings on 27 September or 8 October. Three days later, when the evidence was clear that the German Air Force had greatly exaggerated the extent of their successes against the RAF, Hitler postponed Sea Lion indefinitely.” The Battle of Britain marked the first defeat of Hitler’s military forces, with air superiority seen as the key to victory. Pre-war theories led to exaggerated fears of strategic bombing, and British public opinion was invigorated by having come through the ordeal. Had Britain lost the battle or capitulated either the Nazis or the Soviets would have dominated Europe, with the US being able to do little to change things. For the British, Fighter Command had achieved a great victory in successfully carrying out Sir Thomas Inskip’s 1937 air policy of preventing the Germans from knocking Britain out of the war. The Fighter Command was so successful that the conclusion to Churchill’s famous ‘Battle of Britain’ speech made in the House of Commons on 18 June, has come to refer solely to them: “…if the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.'” The Battle also signalled a significant shift in American opinion. During the battle, many people from the US accepted the view promoted by Joseph Kennedy, the American ambassador in London, and believed that Great Britain could not survive. However, Roosevelt wanted a second opinion, and sent “Wild Bill” Donovan on a brief visit to Britain; he became convinced Britain would survive and should be supported in every possible way. Both sides in the battle made exaggerated claims of numbers of enemy aircraft shot down. In general, claims were two to three times the actual numbers, because of the confusion of fighting in dynamic three-dimensional air battles. Postwar analysis of records has shown that between July and September, the RAF claimed 2,698 kills, while the Luftwaffe fighters claimed 3,198 RAF aircraft downed. Total losses, and start and end dates for recorded losses, vary for both sides. Luftwaffe losses from 10 July to 30 October 1940 total 1,652 aircraft, including 229 twin- and 533 single-engined fighters.[210] In the same period, RAF Fighter Command aircraft losses number 1,087, including 53 twin-engined fighters. To the RAF figure should be added 376 Bomber Command and 148 Coastal Command aircraft conducting bombing, mining, and reconnaissance operations in defence of the country. The Luftwaffe had 1,380 bombers on 29 June 1940. By 2 November 1940, this had increased to 1,423, and to 1,511 by 21 June 1941, prior to Operation Barbarossa, but showing a drop of 200 from 1,711 reported on 11 May 1940. 1,107 single- and 357 twin-engined daylight fighters were reported on strength prior to the Battle on 29 June 1940, compared to 1,440 single- and 188 twin-engined fighters, plus 263 night fighters, on 21 June 1941. There is a consensus among historians that the Luftwaffe simply could not crush the RAF. Stephen Bungay described Dowding and Park’s strategy of choosing when to engage the enemy whilst maintaining a coherent force as vindicated. The RAF proved to be a robust and capable organisation which was to use all the modern resources available to it to the maximum advantage. Richard Evans wrote: Irrespective of whether Hitler was really set on this course, he simply lacked the resources to establish the air superiority that was the sine qua non-of a successful crossing of the English Channel. A third of the initial strength of the German air force, the Luftwaffe, had been lost in the western campaign in the spring. The Germans lacked the trained pilots, the effective fighter planes, and the heavy bombers that would have been needed.The Germans launched some spectacular attacks against important British industries, but they could not destroy the British industrial potential, and made little systematic effort to do so. Hindsight does not disguise the fact the threat to Fighter Command was very real, and for the participants it seemed as if there was a narrow margin between victory and defeat. Nevertheless, even if the German attacks on the 11 Group airfields which guarded southeast England and the approaches to London had continued, the RAF could have withdrawn to the Midlands out of German fighter range and continued the battle from there.The victory was as much psychological as physical. Writes Alfred Price: The truth of the matter, borne out by the events of 18 August is more prosaic: neither by attacking the airfields, nor by attacking London, was the Luftwaffe likely to destroy Fighter Command. Given the size of the British fighter force and the general high quality of its equipment, training and morale, the Luftwaffe could have achieved no more than a Pyrrhic victory. During the action on 18 August it had cost the Luftwaffe five trained aircrewmen killed, wounded or taken prisoner, for each British fighter pilot killed or wounded; the ratio was similar on other days in the battle. And this ratio of 5:1 was very close to that between the number of German aircrew involved in the battle and those in Fighter Command. In other words the two sides were suffering almost the same losses in trained aircrew, in proportion to their overall strengths. In the Battle of Britain, for the first time during the Second World War, the German war machine had set itself a major task which it patently failed to achieve, and so demonstrated that it was not invincible. In stiffening the resolve of those determined to resist Hitler the battle was an important turning point in the conflict. The British victory in the Battle of Britain was achieved at a heavy cost. Total British civilian losses from July to December 1940 were 23,002 dead and 32,138 wounded, with one of the largest single raids on 19 December 1940, in which almost 3,000 civilians died.The brilliant leadership of Dowding and Keith Park in successfully proving their theories of air defence, however, had created enmity among RAF senior commanders and both were sacked from their posts in the immediate aftermath of the battle. The end of the battle allowed Britain to rebuild its military forces and establish itself as an Allied stronghold. Britain later served as a base from which the Liberation of Western Europe was launched. 

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