Issued by
The Ministry of Information
on behalf of
The Air Ministry
----
His Majesty's Stationery Office
First Published: 1941



The Germans had occupied much of continental Europe by mid-1940, and they then set their sights on the British Isles. Their attempt to occupy Great Britain took place in the summer and autumn of 1940 and was known as the "Battle of Britain". This pamphlet was published by the British government in 1941, the year following the battle, and discusses in great detail the tactics that were used by both sides in fighting the battle. It begins by describing the types of aircraft involved and the general defensive tactics used by the British, then describes the battle itself by dividing it into four distinct phases, and ends by summarizing the accomplishments and costs for both sides in the battle.

The paper version of this pamphlet did not contain any images, but the electronic version below has had some image links added in order to help the reader better understand the subject matter.


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Contents



The Scene is Set

On Tuesday, 20th August, 1940, at 3.52 in the afternoon, the Prime Minister gave the House of Commons one of those periodic reviews on the progress of the war, with which members in particular and the country in general have grown familiar. The occasion was grave. On 8th August, the Germans, after a period of activity against our shipping, which had lasted for somewhat longer than a month, had launched upon this island the first of a series of mass air attacks in daylight. For some ten days, and notably on the 15th and the 18th, men and women in the streets of English towns and villages and in the countryside had seen, high up against the background of the summer sky, the shift and play of aircraft engaged in the fierce and prolonged combat which has come to be known as the Battle of Britain.

The House was crowded. Its mood was one of anxious enthusiasm; but enthusiasm waxed and anxiety waned as the Prime Minister proceeded to describe the swiftly changing movements of the battle, the opening stages of which some of the members had themselves witnessed.

After referring to the work and achievements of the Navy, Mr. Winston Churchill turned to the war in the air. "The gratitude of every home in our island," he said, "in our Empire and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

The Prime Minister was speaking at a moment when the battle was still at its height, for it was not until the end of October that the German Luftwaffe virtually abandoned its attacks by daylight and began to rely entirely on a policy of night raiding -- its tacit admission of defeat.

First Great Air Battle in History

It is now possible to tell, in great part, the story of the action on which such high praise had been bestowed. Before doing so, however, it is worth while to recall the extraordinary nature of the battle. Nothing like it has ever been fought before in the history of mankind. It is true that aircraft frequently met in combat in the last war; but they did so in numbers very small when compared with those which were engaged over the fields of Kent and Sussex, the rolling country of Hampshire and Dorset, the flat lands of Essex and the sprawling mass of London. Moreover, from 1914 to 1918, fights took place either between individual aircraft or between small formations, and an engagement in which more than a hundred aircraft on both sides were involved was rare, even in the later stages of the war. The issue was, in fact, decided not in the air, in which element the rival air forces played an important but secondary part, but by slow-moving infantry in the heavy mud of Flanders and the Somme. It may be that the same thing, or something like it, will ultimately happen in the present war. Up to the moment, however, the first decisive encounter between Britain and Germany has taken place in the air and was fought three, four, five, and sometimes more than six miles above the surface of the earth, by some hundreds of aircraft flying at speeds often in excess of three hundred miles an hour.

While this great battle was being fought day after day, the men and women of this country went about their business with very little idea of what was happening high up above their heads in the fields of air. This battle was not shrouded in the majestic and terrible smoke of a land bombardment, with its roar of guns, its flash of shells, its fountains of erupting earth. There was not sound nor fury -- only a pattern of white vapour trails, leisurely changing form and shape, traced by a number of tiny specks, scintillating like diamonds in the splendid sunlight. From very far away, there broke out from time to time a chatter against the duller sound of engines. Yet had that chatter not broken out, that remote sound would have changed, first to a roar and then to a fierce shriek, punctuated by the crash of heavy bombs as bomber after bomber unloaded its cargo. In a few days, the Southern towns of England, the capital of the Empire itself, would have suffered the fate of Warsaw or Rotterdam.

The contest may, indeed, be likened to a duel with rapiers, fought by masters of the art of fence. In such an encounter, the thrusts and parries are so swift as to be often hard to perceive, and the spectator realises that the fight is over only when the loser drops his point or falls defeated to the ground.

These were the Weapons Used

Before we can understand the general strategy and tactics followed by both sides, something must be said of the weapons used. The Germans sought a decision by sending over five main types of bombers -- the JU.87, a dive-bomber, the JU.88, various types of the Heinkel 111, the Dornier 215 and the Dornier 17. The JU.87 type B was a two-seater dive bomber. It was an all-metal, low-wing cantilever monoplane, armed with two fixed machine guns, one in each wing, and a movable machine gun in the aft cockpit. When looked at from straight ahead, the wings had the shape of a very flat W. Its maximum speed in level flight was a trifle over 240 miles an hour. The JU.88 was also a dive bomber, with a maximum speed of 317 m.p.h. Its crew and armament were similar to those of the Heinkel 111. The Heinkel 111k Mark V was a low wing, all-metal, cantilever monoplane with two engines. It carried a crew of four and was armed with three movable machine guns, one in the nose, one on the top of the fuselage and one in the streamlined "blister" underneath. Its maximum speed was nearly 275 m.p.h. The Dornier 215 was a high-wing cantilever monoplane of all-metal construction, with three movable machine guns similarly placed to those of the Heinkel 111k. Its maximum speed was about 312 m.p.h. It was a development of the Dornier 17, familiarly known as " the flying pencil." This aircraft was a mid-wing cantilever monoplane. It was armed with two fixed forward-firing machine guns in the fuselage, one movable gun in the floor and one on a shielded mounting above the wings. Its maximum speed was about 310 m.p.h. Variations and increases in armament were constantly made in all these aircraft, which carried the bombs intended to secure victory.

These bombers were protected by fighters, of which the Germans used two main types, the ME.109 and the ME.110. The ME.109, in the form then used, was a single-seater fighter. It was a low-wing, all-metal, cantilever monoplane armed with a cannon firing through the airscrew hub, four machine guns and two more in troughs on the top of the engine cowling. Its maximum speed was a little more than 350 m.p.h. Its pilot was later protected by back and front armour, of which the size and shape became standardized during the course of the battle. The ME.110 was a two-seater fighter powered with two engines. It was an all-metal, low-wing cantilever monoplane with two fixed cannons and four fixed machine guns to fire forward from the nose. It was much larger than the ME.109 but did not have the same capacity of manoeuvre. Its maximum speed did not exceed 365 m.p.h. In this aircraft, the crew were protected by back armour only. The Germans also used a few Heinkel 113's. This was a low-wing, all-metal, cantilever monoplane with a single engine. A cannon fired through the airscrew hub and there were two large-bore machine guns in the wings. The maximum speed was about 380 m.p.h.

To combat this formidable array of fighters and bombers, which Göring had boasted were "definitely superior" to any British aircraft, the Royal Air Force used the Spitfire, the Hurricane and occasionally the Boulton-Paul Defiant.

The Spitfire Mark I was a single-seater fighter with a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. It was a low-wing, all-metal, cantilever monoplane armed with eight Browning machine guns, four in each wing, set to fire forward outside the airscrew disc. The maximum speed was 366 m.p.h. The Hawker Hurricane Mark I was also a single-seater fighter, similarly engined and armed. Its maximum speed was 335 m.p.h. In both these aircraft, the pilot was protected by front and back armour. The Boulton-Paul Defiant was a two-seater fighter with a Rolls-Royce engine. It was an all-metal, low-wing, cantilever monoplane, and was armed with four Browning machine guns mounted in a power-operated turret.

With such machines as these, the Royal Air Force and the Luftwaffe faced each other on 8th August, 1940, when the battle began.

The British Fighter Force on Guard

Before describing it, something must first be said about our methods of defence, although it is not easy to do this without giving away "state secrets."

The governing principle is that a sufficient strength of Fighters must be assembled at the required height over a given place where it can intercept the oncoming enemy raid and break it up before it can reach its objective.

There is general agreement that the principle of employing Standing Patrols is impracticable owing to its wastefulness. To keep a sufficient strength of Fighters always in the air to guard our shores from any attack would be beyond the powers of the biggest Air Force imaginable. The Fighter Force is therefore kept on the ground, in the interests of economy of effort, and only ordered off the ground when raids appear to be imminent.

Information regarding the approach of the enemy is obtained by a variety of methods and is co-ordinated and passed to "Operations Rooms." The coastline of Britain is divided into Sectors, each with its own Fighter Aerodromes and Headquarters. These Sectors are grouped together under a conveniently situated Group Headquarters, which in its turn, comes under the general control of Headquarters, Fighter Command. The information about enemy raids is illustrated by various symbols on a large map table in Group and Sector Operations Rooms, the aim being to give each "Controller" the same picture of the progress of raids in his particular area. In addition to this, the Controllers have all possible information set out before them, such as the location and "state" of their own Squadrons, the weather, and cloud conditions all over their area. They are also in touch with Anti-aircraft Defences and Balloon Barrages.

Squadrons are maintained at their Sector Aerodromes at various "states of preparedness." The most relaxed state is "released," which means that the Squadron is not required to operate until a specified hour and that the personnel can be employed in routine maintenance, flying training and instruction, organised games, and that in some cases they may leave the Station. Next comes "Available," which means the Squadrons must prepare to be in the air within so many minutes of receiving the order. "Readiness" reduces this to a minimum and is the most advanced state normally used. Occasionally, "Stand-by" is employed, which means that the pilots are seated in their aircraft, with the engines "off," but all pointing into wind, ready to start up and take off the moment the leader gets his orders from the Controller.

In good weather conditions and when there is reason to anticipate an attack, Squadrons are perforce kept at a high state of "preparedness", which is relaxed as much as possible when the weather deteriorates. The broad principle is usually to keep one part of the force at "Readiness," a second part at "Advanced Available" and a third at "Normal Available." When the attack develops, the "Readiness" Squadrons are ordered off in appropriate formations and the "Available" Squadrons are ordered to "Readiness" and used as a reserve to meet a second or a third attack or to protect aerodromes or vulnerable points, such as aircraft factories.

These orders are issued by the Controller, whose function it is to study the Operations Room Map and put a suitable number of aircraft into the air at selected points. His duty also is to keep a constant watch on his resources, so as not to run the risk of being caught by a third or fourth wave of raids, with all his Squadrons on the ground "landed and refuelling." It must be remembered that the endurance of a modern Fighter aircraft, if it is to have ample margin for full throttle work, climbing and fighting, is limited. Allowance must also be made for the journey back to the parent station, especially if visibility is bad.

With the tracks of the enemy raid and of his own Fighters both before his eyes, the Controller's task of making an interception is in theory a comparatively simple mathematical problem. He is in constant touch with his Fighters by radio telephone, is able to give them orders to change course from time to time, so as to put them in the best position for attack.

Once the Fighters report that they have "sighted the enemy," the Controller's task is over, except that he may have to give them a course to bring them back to their aerodromes when the battle is over. The "enemy sighted" signal, the "Tallyho," is at once transmitted to Group H.Q. and recorded on the Squadron state indicator. The Red Letter day for any Group was on 27th September, when, in No. 11 Group, 21 Squadrons out of 21 ordered up were able to report "enemy sighted." But the successful interception of raids is not always so easy. In practice exercises before the war, thirty per cent interception was thought satisfactory and fifty per cent very good. When the test came, however, the percentage rose to seventy-five, ninety, and sometimes a hundred. This consistently high rate of interception made it possible for our superiority in pilots and aircraft to achieve its full effect.

The task of the Controller, in setting the stage for the battle, is governed by one factor -- accurate and timely information about the raids. In clear weather, with little or no cloud, the raiders came over at such high altitude that they were almost invisible, even with the use of binoculars. The numbers of aircraft employed made a confusion of noise in the high atmosphere and thus increased the difficulty of detecting raids by sound. In cloudy weather this difficulty was increased, for the Observer Corps had then to rely entirely on sound. In view of these difficulties, that Corps and other sources of information deserve very great credit for the remarkably clear and timely picture of the situation they presented to the Controllers. These, then, set the pieces on the wide chessboard of the English skies, and made the opening moves in the contest, on the outcome of which the safety of all free peoples depended. Flexibility was their motto. Each day, the Controllers held a conference, at which every idea or device, for thinking and acting one step ahead of their cunning and resourceful foe, was set forth, earnestly discussed and, if found useful, adopted. Without this system of central control, no battle, in the proper sense of the word, would have taken place. Squadrons would have gone up haphazard, as and when enemy raids were reported. They would either have found themselves heavily outnumbered or with no enemy at all confronting them.

Great care was taken to keep the burden of the fight distributed as equally as possible between all the Squadrons engaged. This was achieved by hard training, which continued right through the battle. Whenever there was a lull, new formations were devised and flown, new tactics practised. No Squadron was ever thrown into the fight without previous experience of fighting. They were carefully "nursed" and went into action under the leadership of an experienced squadron-leader with many hours of combat to his credit. The importance of team work was fully realised. It was a lesson learnt in France during the battles of May and June, and fortunately many of the pilots who had fought in them were in positions of command during the battle of Britain. Their knowledge and experience were invaluable.

The German Command Plans a Knockout

The avowed object of the enemy was to obtain a quick decision and to end the war by the autumn or early winter of 1940. To achieve this, an invasion of Britain was evidently thought to be essential. Preparations to launch it were pushed forward with great energy and determination throughout the last days of June, the month of July and the first week of August. By the 8th August the enemy felt himself ready to begin the opening phase, on the success of which his plan depended. Before the German Army could land, it was necessary to destroy our coastal convoys, to sink or immobilise such units of the Royal Navy as would dispute its passage, and above all to drive the Royal Air Force from the sky. He, therefore, launched a series of air attacks, first on our shipping and ports and then on our aerodromes. There were four phases in the battle, the first from 8th - 18th August, the second from the 19th August - 5th September, the third from the 6th September - 5th October, the fourth from the 6th - 31st October. During this last phase, daylight attacks gave way gradually to night raids, which increased as the month went on. It should, however, be remembered that throughout the battle the enemy made use of night as well as day bombing, the first growing in volume and violence as the second fell away.

What was the plan which he thought to carry through in these four phases? It is impossible to say with certainty at this moment. The German mind is very methodical and immensely painstaking. Schemes are worked out to the last detail; the organisation is superb and, provided the calculations are correct, the plan goes without a hitch. But again and again history has shown that, if the original plan fails or becomes impracticable, the German has little power of improvisation, and "if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?" A brand new plan has to be worked out in full detail, and when this has been done, it may well be too late. In this instance, the Luftwaffe was designed to prepare the way for the German Army by smashing the enemy's resistance, and it was a fundamental assumption in Berlin that Germany could, in every case, establish and maintain air supremacy.

The general plan for the use of the Luftwaffe was to seize and exploit the full mastery of the air. This was the main feature in the Polish campaign, in the attacks on Norway and the Low Countries, and even, to a large extent, in France. Aerodromes were to be put out of action, thus tying the opposing Air Forces to the ground. Ports and communications could then be destroyed without hindrance, the military forces of the enemy paralysed and the German armoured divisions placed in a position to operate undisturbed. Success meant the destruction of civilian morale, and then internal disruption and surrender.

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Phase I: The Offensive is Launched

In the first stage, the enemy sent over massed formations of bombers, escorted by similar formations of single- and twin-engined fighters. The bombers were for the most part JU.87s (dive bombers), with a smaller quantity of He.111s, Do.17s and Ju.88s. The fighter escorts flew in large, unwieldy formations, from 5,000-10.000 ft. above the bombers, where the protection they afforded was not very effective. Using these tactical formations, the enemy made twenty-six attacks during this first stage. He began by renewing his assaults on our shipping. It may well be that this was still regarded as the most vulnerable form of target and the easiest to attack, for not only are slow-moving ships difficult to defend, but casualties among the pilots of the defence are always higher when the action is fought over water. He may also have wished to test the strength of our general defences. Success against these would augur well for the next stage. At any rate, on 8th August two convoys were fiercely attacked, one of them twice. Sixty enemy aircraft in the morning and more than a hundred soon after midday, deployed on a front of over twenty miles, tried to sink or disperse a convoy off the Isle of Wight. They succeeded in sinking two ships. In the afternoon at 4.15 more than a hundred and thirty appeared over another convoy off Bournemouth. This they were able to disperse, but they lost fairly heavily in doing so. The enemy renewed the assault three days later, choosing as his targets the towns of Portland and Weymouth, as well as convoys in the Thames Estuary and off Harwich. In these attacks, he relied greatly on dive bombers, which proved no match for our Hurricanes. Nevertheless some damage was done both in Portland and Weymouth. This may have encouraged him, for on 12th August, early in the morning, he launched about two hundred aircraft in eleven waves against Dover. Shortly before noon, a hundred and fifty more of the enemy attacked Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. By this time, German losses were already very considerable, for one hundred and eighty-two aircraft had been destroyed.

On the 13th and 15th, the attacks on Portsmouth were renewed and in some of them, notably that which began soon after 5 in the afternoon of the 15th, between three and four hundred aircraft were employed. The enemy was by now beginning to realise that our fighter force was considerably stronger than he had imagined. It was evidently time to take drastic action. Our fighters must be put out of commission. Therefore, while still maintaining his attacks on coastal towns, he sent large forces to deal with fighter aerodromes in the South and South-East of England; Dover, Deal, Hawkinge, Martlesham, Lympne, Middle Wallop, Kenley and Biggin Hill were heavily attacked, some of them many times. A number of the enemy penetrated as far as Croydon.

German Losses Run into Hundreds of Aircraft

Once more the Luftwaffe did a certain amount of damage, but at a cost which even Göring must have regarded as excessive. On that day, 15th August, a hundred and eighty German aircraft are known to have been destroyed. Since the opening of the battle, he had now lost four hundred and seventy-two aircraft. Nevertheless, he still returned to the charge, throwing in between five and six hundred aircraft on 16th August and about the same number on the 18th. Rochester, Kenley, Croydon, Biggin Hill, Manston, West Malling, Gosport, Northholt and Tangmere were the main targets. His losses were again very heavy. In those two days, two hundred and forty-five aircraft were shot down. One of them, a Heinkel 111, fell to a Sergeant pilot flying an unarmed Anson aircraft of Training Command. Whether he intentionally rammed the enemy will never be known, for both aircraft fell to the ground interlocked and there were no survivors. On 18th August, in the evening attack on the Thames Estuary, one Squadron alone of thirteen Hurricanes shot down, without loss, an equal number of the enemy in fifty minutes.

In the ten days since the opening of the attack on 8th August, Göring had now lost six hundred and ninety-seven aircraft. Our own losses during the same period were not light, for we lost one hundred and fifty-three. Sixty pilots were safe, though some of them were wounded.

The pace was too hot to last. Göring called halt and gave his Luftwaffe a rest, which lasted for five days.

What had he hoped to achieve? An examination of the attacks shows that he began by trying to destroy shipping and ports on the South-East and South Coasts between the North Foreland and Portland. This preliminary test must have shown him the strength of our defences. Nevertheless, he proceeded with his plan and next directed his attention to Portland and Portsmouth. Whether these objectives were too tough for him or whether he thought that the four heavy attacks upon them had accomplished his object, he turned away to deliver assaults on fighter and bomber aerodromes mostly near the coast. Throughout this first stage, the tactics he followed were usually to open his attack on objectives near the coast in order to draw off our fighters. These feint attacks were followed thirty or forty minutes later by the real attack, delivered against ports or aerodromes on the South Coast between Brighton and Portland.

The chief problem created by these tactics was to have a sufficient number of fighters ready to engage the main attack as soon as it could be picked out. Squadrons at the forward aerodromes had to be in instant readiness, but had at the same time to be protected from bombing or machine-gun attacks. Only on one occasion was a Squadron machine-gunned while re-fuelling at a forward aerodrome, and this happened because a protective patrol had not been maintained overhead during the process.

Generally, the enemy attacks were countered by using about half the available Squadrons to deal with the enemy fighters and the rest to attack the enemy bombers, which flew normally at from 11,000-15,000 feet, descending frequently to 7,000 or 8,000 feet in order to drop their bombs. Our fighter tactics at this stage were to deliver attacks from the stern on the Me.109s and Me.110s. This type of attack proved effective because these aircraft were not then armoured. The success of our fighter tactics at this stage can be gauged by a comparison between our losses in pilots and those of the enemy. The ratio was about seven to one and might have been even more striking if so much of the fighting had not taken place over the sea.

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Phase II: The Attack on Inland Aerodromes

Between the end of the first stage and the active beginning of the second, there was, as has been said, an interval of five days which were spent by the Germans in wide-spread reconnaissance by single aircraft, some of which indulged in the spasmodic bombing of aerodromes. These operations cost them thirty-nine aircraft shot down. Our losses were ten aircraft, but six pilots were saved.

During this lull, Göring evidently decided that a change of objectives was necessary. Perhaps he thought that he had achieved the necessary results, and that Portland and Portsmouth, together with our coastal aerodromes, were virtually out of action. Perhaps he was under the impression that inland aerodromes, factories and other industrial targets would not be as stoutly defended. It is more probable, however, that he merely gave the order for the second part of the plan to be put into operation and disregarded the failure of the first part -- either deliberately, or because he had no alternative. In this next stage, diversionary attacks against different parts of the country became less frequent. The main attack was now delivered on a wider front. Enemy tactics were also changed. The number of escorting fighters was increased and the size of bomber formations reduced. The covering fighter screen flew at very great heights. Enemy bomber formations were also protected by a box of fighters, some of which flew slightly above to a flank or in rear, others slightly above and ahead, and yet others weaving in and out between the sub-formations of the bombers. This type of formation succeeded on several occasions in breaking through the forward screens of our fighter forces by sheer weight of numbers and in attaining their objectives, even after numerous casualties had been inflicted. On other occasions, smallish formations of enemy long-range bombers deliberately left their fighter escort as soon as it had joined battle and proceeded towards South or South-West London unaccompanied. They suffered heavy casualties when engaged by our rear rank of fighters.

Having thus altered his tactical formations, the enemy proceeded to deliver some thirty-five major attacks between the 24th August and 5th September. His object, as has been said, was to put out of action inland fighter aerodromes and aircraft factories. He did not, however, disdain purely residential districts in Kent, the Thames Estuary and Essex. These could in no case be described as of military importance.

Eight Hundred Aircraft Attack Fighter Aerodromes

From 24th to 29th August he still showed an interest in Portland, Dover and Manston, all of which were heavily attacked. He added other targets as well. Several areas in Essex came in for attention. There was fierce fighting over the North Foreland, Gravesend and Deal. At 6.45 p.m. on the 24th, a hundred and ten German bombers and fighters met a number of our Squadrons in the neighbourhood of Maidstone but turned and fled before they could be engaged.

The next day he returned to Portsmouth and Southampton, where once again he achieved no success, with the main attack, delivered at 4 p.m., going astray. A large number of bombs fell into the sea. Heavy assaults were also made in the Dover-Folkestone area, and over the Thames Estuary and in Kent. These continued, with a lull of one day, until 30th August. On that day and the next, the assault was switched to inland fighter aerodromes. Eight hundred aircraft were used in a most determined effort to destroy, or temporarily put out of use, the aerodromes at Kenley, North Weald, Hornchurch, Debden, Lympne, Detling, Duxford, Northolt and Biggen Hill.

The opening of September showed little, if any, falling off in the assaults of the enemy. There were three heavy attacks on 1st September, five on the 2nd, one on the 3rd and two on the 4th and 5th. One of the attacks on the 2nd got to within ten miles of London, but most of them were once again directed against fighter aerodromes. This was the last of the thirty-five main attacks delivered in this phase. They cost the Germans five hundred and sixty-two aircraft known to have been destroyed. Our own losses were two hundred and nineteen aircraft, but a hundred and thirty-two of their pilots were saved.

During these twelve days, our own tactical dispositions were altered so as to meet the changed form of attack. The effect of this was to cause the enemy to be met in greater strength and farther away from their inland objectives, while such of his aircraft as were successful in eluding this forward defence were dealt with by Squadrons farther in the rear.

The heavy task of the defence can be realised by the fact that, in these first two phases of this great battle, from the 8th August to 5th September inclusive, no fewer than 4,523 Fighter Patrols of varying strength in aircraft were flown in daylight, an average of one hundred and fifty-six a day.

Hurricanes and Spitfires Stay in the Air

What did the enemy succeed in accomplishing in just under a month of heavy fighting, during which he flung in squadron after squadron of the Luftwaffe without regard to the cost? His object, be it remembered, was to "ground" the Fighters of the Royal Air Force and to destroy so large a number of pilots and aircraft as to put it, temporarily at least, out of action. As has already been made clear, the Germans, after their opening heavy attacks on convoys and on Portsmouth and Portland, concentrated on fighter aerodromes, first on or near the coast, and then on those farther inland. Though they had done damage to aerodromes, both near the coast and inland, and thus put the fighting efficiency of the Fighter Squadrons to considerable strain, they failed entirely to put them out of action. The staff and ground services worked day and night, and the operations of our Fighting Squadrons were not in fact interrupted. By the 6th September, the Germans either believed that they had achieved success and that it only remained for them to bomb a defenceless London until it surrendered, or, following their pre-arranged plan, they automatically switched to their attack against the capital because the moment had come to do so.

Those days saw the climax of the first half of the battle. As they drew to a close, Göring's position became not unlike that of Marshal Ney at Waterloo, when at 4.30 in the afternoon he flung thirty-seven squadrons of Kellermann's Cuirassiers, backed by the Heavy Cavalry of the Guard, against the hard-pressed British squares. Napoleon was unable to find the necessary support and Ney's effort was made in vain. Göring may perhaps have been in the same position, though the attacks of the Luftwaffe continued to be pressed hard throughout September. It may be that Göring had made up his mind to attack targets more easily reached than were our fighter aerodromes. It may be that he was merely working to a time-table. It may be that he thought that our fighter defence was sufficiently weakened. What probably happened can be conveyed by a simple analogy. Imagine a game which involves knocking down a number of objects, such as nine-pins or skittles, in so many turns. The player has worked out a detailed scheme for attacking these by stages. The first two or three shots, however, result in misses, and the prudent man would pause to reconsider his policy at this point. Can he pursue his scheme and still win, or must he abandon it and try another? But this player, Göring, is so certain of winning that he goes on without stopping to think whether or not the preliminary shots have been successful. Suddenly he realises that, with only one or two turns left, he cannot possibly win on the lines of his pre-arranged scheme and he makes a desperate effort to knock down the whole set in the last few shots. This may be no more than a speculation. The facts are that on 7th September Göring switched his attack away from fighter aerodromes and to industrial and other targets, and he began by making London his main objective.

Continued...


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