The daily accounts published here between July and October 2013 are currently being turned into a softback book that will be available both online and via the Trust’s shop at the National Memorial to the Few. These updates were published on the Trust’s Facebook page and here on the website and proved very popular. To reserve a copy of the book, which is expected to go on sale at in mid March for £6.50 plus postage and packing, email email@example.com
To read these updates in the correct order, please scroll to the bottom of the page and read from bottom to top.
The Battle of Britain – 31 October 1940: There was some German fighter and fighter bomber activity today, but rain ensured that what later became regarded officially as the last day of the Battle of Britain (though nobody knew that at the time) passed without significant aerial conflict.
The last word in these daily posts goes to a soldier. Major General (later General) Hastings “Pug” Ismay was one of Mr Churchill’s key aides during the war. In The Memoirs of Lord Ismay, published in 1960, he wrote, in relation to the Battle of Britain:
“As usual, the Prime Minister took every opportunity to go and see things for himself, and I accompanied him on many of his visits to fighter stations in Kent and Sussex.
“From the moment one set foot on the tarmac, one sensed the tension in the air – the pilots standing by ‘on readiness’, waiting to ‘scramble’ into their machines at a moment’s notice.
“It was impossible to look at those young men, who might within a matter of minutes be fighting and dying to save us, without mingled emotions of wonder, gratitude and humility. The physical and mental strain …….. must have been prodigious. And yet they were so cheerful, so confident, and so obviously dedicated.
“They were always thrilled to see Churchill, and they gave me a kindly welcome.. But they seemed a race apart, and I felt an intruder.”
The Battle of Britain – 30 October 1940: Bad weather reduced the amount of German activity by day and by night, but there were still losses on both sides.
At Struntney, near Ely, a Ju 88 forced landed after being attacked by British fighters. The crew of four NCOs became prisoners. Fighters also accounted for the Bf 109 that fell at Leylands near Meopham, Kent. The pilot was wounded but survived.
The last Fighter Command aircrew deaths during operations in the Battle of Britain occurred today. At 8.30 pm, in worsening weather and following R/T failure, a Blenheim of No 23 Squadron crashed at South Berstead near Bognor Regis. Flying Officer Woodward, Pilot Officer Atkinson and AC 2 Perry died.
The Battle of Britain – 29 October 1940: There were attacks on London, Ramsgate – involving Italian bombers and fighters – Portsmouth and Southampton, with major operations against London and the Midlands at night.
This was a day when the Bf 109s suffered. Crash sites included near Elham, Kent (pilot captured), Shepherdswell, Kent (pilot became a prisoner), Tillingham, Essex (another prisoner), Horsham, Sussex (pilot died of injuries), Langton Green, Kent (pilot killed) and Goldhanger, Essex (pilot died of wounds).
The Battle of Britain – 28 October 1940: Weather conditions initially restricted the Luftwaffe’s ability to attack but there were sorties by single aircraft, particularly against ships in the Channel and the Thames estuary.
More significant operations were launched in the afternoon when waves of aircraft headed for London. Bombs were dropped in many areas at night.
One of the more familiar photographs of the Blitz was taken at about this time. It showed a postman, wearing a tin hat and carrying a gas mask, attempting to deliver mail to a bombed house in London. More damaged houses and shops can be seen in the background.
A Bf 109 was shot down by RAF fighters and crashed near Hythe, Kent. In 1973 the site was excavated and the remains recovered of Leutnant Werner Knittel, who had been a Gruppe Adjutant, aged 39. He was laid to rest at the Cannock Chase German Military Cemetery in Staffordshire.
Another 109 fell to the guns of No 603 Squadron’s Flying Officer “Sheep” Gilroy. Unteroffizier Gonschorrek took to his parachute and was captured, slightly wounded. His aircraft crashed near to London Road, Maidstone.
The Battle of Britain – 27 October 1940: London was a target from early this morning and convoys were attacked, too. Southampton was amongst the places hit later in the day, as well as a number of airfields including Martlesham Heath, Honington, Hawkinge and and Kirton-in-Lindsey. London was the main night target.
A No 609 Squadron Spitfire was damaged by return fire from an enemy aircraft over Andover. Pilot Officer Paul Baillon baled out and survived.
In 2013 wreckage from his aircraft was recovered from the crash site on Salisbury Plain. Paul Baillon’s daughter Rosemary was there; she was not born until several months after her father’s death in action on 28 November 1940.
The Battle of Britain – 26 October 1940: Fighter bomber raids took place during the day and were followed by night attacks on London, the Midlands and the North.
Off the west coast of Ireland, the Canadian Pacific liner Empress of Britain, requisitioned as a troopship, was attacked by a Focke Wulf Kondor and set on fire. Most of those on board were saved. The liner was taken under tow, but sank on 28 October following a U-boat torpedo attack.
Fighter Command aircrew were under orders to shoot down German aircraft flying sorties to rescue airmen in the Channel on the grounds that they might also be collecting intelligence.
This policy was to lead to a disastrous incident today. Three Hurricanes of No 229 Squadron attacked a Heinkel He 59 off Boulogne, killing three of the four men on board. The Hurricanes were assailed by Bf 109s and anti-aircraft fire from the shore.
Flying Officer Simpson, a New Zealander, was killed, Flying Officer McHardy landed in France and became a PoW. Only Sergeant Ommanney returned to Northolt.
Ommanney was later promoted to Warrant Officer and was killed in action during the “Channel Dash” of German warships in February 1942.
The Battle of Britain – 25 October 1940: Italian bombers attacked Harwich, thus ensuring that the Italian Air Force could claim a footnote in the history of the Battle of Britain.
In other sorties, fighter bombers, with fighter escort, dropped bombs on London and Kent. Attacks by RAF fighters led to many of the bombs being released haphazardly over Kent.
“The Few” were recognised in a list of decorations released today.
There was, for example, a bar to the DFC for New Zealander Flying Officer Brian Carbury of No 603 Squadron, whose citation stated: “Flying Officer Carbury has displayed outstanding gallantry and skill in engagements against the enemy. Previous to 8th September, 1940, this officer shot down eight enemy aircraft, and shared in the destruction of two others. Since that date he has destroyed two Messerschmitt 109-5 and two Heinkel 113’s, and, in company with other pilots of his squadron, also assisted in the destruction of yet another two enemy aircraft. His cool courage in the face of the enemy has been a splendid example to other pilots of his squadron.”
Also decorated was Pilot Officer Ken Mackenzie of No 501 Squadron, who received the DFC. The achievements of “Mac” included the incident on 7 October when he followed a Bf 109 out over the Channel and deliberately struck the tailplane with one of his wings, causing the enemy aircraft to crash into the sea. Mackenzie was then slightly injured in a forced landing near Folkestone.
The Battle of Britain – 24 October 1940: Another quiet day, although London and the Midlands were attacked in some force at night. Fighters shot down a Dornier Do 215 on a photo reconnaissance sortie to Coventry and Birmingham. The aircraft fell at Eaton Socon, Bedfordshire. All four crew members took to their parachutes but only one survived.
Air Chief Marshal Dowding issued instructions to the commanders of Nos 11 and 12 Groups seeking to improve the co-operation between them.
The Battle of Britain – 23 October 1940: After a very quiet day thanks to adverse weather conditions, Luftwaffe bombers were despatched to London and Glasgow at night.
On the wider war front, 10 elderly destroyers were handed over to the Royal Navy at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Hitler met the Spanish leader Franco. A document pledging co-operation was signed, but Franco’s extortionate demands made him a difficult ally for the Germans.
The Battle of Britain – 22 October 1940: Fog curtailed operations this morning, but the Germans later mounted attacks on targets that included shipping off the Kent coast and in the Thames estuary.
German losses included a Heinkel He lll that crashed into barracks at Tours airfield following a sortie to England; the crew and 13 ground personnel were killed.
At about 4.30pm, wreckage from a a Bf 109 fell in the sea off Littlestone Golf course on the edge of Romney Marsh. The aircraft had been shot down over the Channel by Flying Officer the Hon David Coke of No 257 Squadron. Unteroffizier Arp was killed.
Shortly afterwards another 257 Hurricane crashed into a wood at Moat Farm, Shadoxhurst, Kent, with the loss of Sergeant Bobby Fraser.
Another aircraft and pilot from the squadron were lost when Pilot Officer “Aubrey” Heywood’s machine was hit by AA fire while in combat over Folkestone and crashed not far from Lydd church.
In 2013 a memorial to Bobby Fraser was unveiled close to the spot where his Hurricane fell.
The Battle of Britain – 21 October 1940: In the early hours of this morning Bomber Command aircraft were returning from Wilhelmshaven, where the German battleship Tirpitz had been attacked.
The Tirpitz would not be sunk (at Tromso, Norway) until November 1944, when the operation was carried out by Lancasters of Nos 9 and 617 Squadrons. On that occasion one of the 617 aircraft was skippered by Flight Lieutenant Tony Iveson, who had been a Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain with Nos 616 and 92 Squadrons.
Flt Lt Iveson was one of a number of men to both qualify for the Battle of Britain Clasp and later be decorated for service in Bomber Command.
Single Luftwaffe aircraft and small formations attacked targets in various parts of England during the day, while London, Liverpool and the Midlands suffered at night.
A Dornier Do 17 tasked to attack Liverpool turned back in bad weather and reached France, but was then reported to have flown back to England because of a faulty compass. Eventually the crew baled out over Salisbury Plain and the Dornier belly landed at Ness Point, Erwarton, Suffolk.
The Battle of Britain – 20 October 1940: Daytime fighter bomber attacks in London and the south east and heavy bombing at night aimed at London and the Midlands were the major Luftwaffe activities.
Coventry was hit, although the terrible night for that city, named (in English) “Operation Moonlight Sonata” by the Germans would not occur until 14 November.
At 1.45 pm a Bf 109 flying as a fighter bomber escort exploded over Woolwich during an attack by RAF fighters. Oberfeldwebel Friedemann fell to the ground, his parachute unopened.
The front part of his aircraft came down at Wickham Street, Welling, among temporary homes built for Londoners who had been bombed out. The Evening News caught the scene as a crowd inspected the wreckage.
By now, sheltering from the bombs in London tube stations was becoming commonplace and refreshment services were beginning to develop, including food deliveries by specially arranged underground trains.
The Battle of Britain – 19 October 1940: Morning activity was limited until the weather improved and Bf 109s appeared over the south east.
A Spitfire crashed at Smarden, Kent, although the cause was not established. Sergeant Leslie Allton of No 92 Squadron was killed.
The book “The Battle of Britain Then and Now” reports that the wartime recovery operation at the scene was abandoned when a hurricane lamp was knocked over and fuel ignited. In the 1970s excavations at the site recovered the Spitfire’s Merlin engine and other items, including a cigarette case – and what appeared to be the remains of the hurricane lamp.
Leslie Allton had been school captain at King Edward Vl Grammar School, Nuneaton and was an outstanding sportsman. He had flown Fairey Battles in France and served with No 266 Squadron before moving to 92 on 30 September 1940. He was buried in Nuneaton.
The Battle of Britain – 18 October 1940: Things quietened down somewhat during the day and overnight, but the threat of tragedy still hung over the population of London.
One incident that brought home that threat was the bombing of Clyde Street junior school in Deptford. It no longer had pupils and was being used as an ARP post; seven people died when a bomb hit the school, including the nurse in charge of first aid, three first aid attendants and two wardens.
On the previous night a mine had fallen in St James’s Park and failed to explode. This morning Mr Churchill ignored advice to leave 10 Downing Street, but was recorded as being concerned for the fate of “those poor little birds” in the St James’s Park lake. A bomb disposal squad dealt with the mine.
The Battle of Britain – 17 October 1940: Raids on targets in Kent and London were the basis of the Luftwaffe’s operations.
As the nature of the German threat changed, further detailed instructions were issued by Keith Park as to how No 11 Group should react.
In the middle of the afternoon a Spitfire was shot down over Westerham and crashed at Crockham Hill. Pilot Officer Hugh Reilley of No 66 Squadron, a Canadian, was killed. He died five days after his friend Pilot Officer Herbert Case of No 72 Squadron.
Shortly before their deaths the pair had spent leave together at the Case family home in Somerset.
Reilley was downed by the German ace Major Werner Moelders, one of the Luftwaffe pilots who had gained combat experience in the Spanish Civil War. Moelders would be killed in a landing crash while flying as a passenger in 1941.
The Battle of Britain – 16 October 1940: Fog on the Continent was a factor in the limited extent of enemy operations today.
Nonetheless, the Luftwaffe suffered casualties. Among them were a Dornier Do 17 that crashed near Wells, Somerset on a sortie to Liverpool and a Junkers Ju 88 that fell at Bishop’s Stortford. There were no survivors from either aircraft.
Aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm, flying from HMS Furious, attacked targets at Tromso in Norway.
The Battle of Britain – 15 October 1940: New instructions from Air Vice Marshal Park came into effect in No 11 Group today.
They were aimed at countering the shorter timescale between warnings from radar stations and raiders appearing over London, especially now that some German fighters were carrying bombs.
Park addressed the time taken for squadrons and other formations to climb from the ground to an effective height. He stressed. “Bitter experience has proved time and again that it is better to intercept the enemy with one squadron above him than by a whole wing crawling up below, probably after the enemy has dropped his bombs.”
London and Birmingham suffered heavy attacks today. Severe damage was done to the capital’s railway system, including hits on Waterloo station and various points on the underground network.
The Battle of Britain – 14 October 1940: There there were many small attacks from mid morning onwards, while moonlight assisted nighttime attacks on London. The Carlton Club in Pall Mall was packed with members when it received a direct hit, but despite extensive damage and fire, nobody in the building died.
Those emerging from the wreckage found incendiary bombs littering the street and passers-by kicking them into the gutters or smothering them with earth. There were about 500 deaths in London today.
A Hurricane of No 605 Squadron crashed in Tennison Road, South Norwood just before 1 pm after being hit by anti aircraft fire or striking a balloon cable. Flying Officer Ralph Hope, a relative of the former Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, was killed. Hope was a squadron veteran who had gained a rowing blue at Oxford, as bow in the 1935 boat.
The Battle of Britain – 13 October 1940: Targets in Kent and London were attacked during the day, while at night the Luftwaffe headed for London, Liverpool and Birkenhead, Birmingham, Bristol, Wales and Dundee.
Today was a day for what would now be called “friendly fire” incidents. A Hurricane of No 17 Squadron was shot down by British anti aircraft fire, with the pilot surviving, wounded. Blenheims of No 29 Squadron were attacked by Hurricanes from No 312 Squadron. One complete Blenheim crew was killed.
The Battle of Britain – 12 October 1940: Hitler issued fresh orders, stating that from today invasion preparations would be designed to put pressure on the British. There would be no invasion in 1940, but one might be contemplated in 1941.
Despite poor weather there was much Luftwaffe activity, with London hit by day and night. A high explosive bomb hit the National Gallery and destroyed a room where works by the Italian painter Raphael had hung before the war.
At about 9.20am a Spitfire of No 72 Squadron crashed in a field off Winehouse Lane, Capel-le-Ferne, not far from where the National Memorial to The Few now stands. Pilot Officer Herbert Case, a 24-year-old farmer’s son from Somerset, was found dead at the scene.
It was recorded that, during a patrol led by Squadron Leader Ted Graham, Case’s aircraft had fallen out of formation for no obvious reason. Witnesses, though, later reported that they had seen the Spitfire attacked by German fighters.
An Army officer’s wife wrote to Case’s mother, explaining this and continuing: “Everyone was terribly upset when the Spitfire was shot down. I have seldom seen my husband so affected but he assured me that the boy must have been killed in the air before he crashed.
“I thought this knowledge might be of some small comfort to you in your tragic sorrow and pride, in the astonishing courage of these sons whose deeds fill the world with admiration.”
Herbert Case is remembered on one of the display boards currently being renovated at the National Memorial to the Few.
The Battle of Britain – 11 October 1940: Messerschmitt Bf 109s attacked centres of population in Kent and Essex, as well as the airfields at Biggin Hill and Kenley.
London, Liverpool, Manchester and the north east came under attack during the night.
Dorniers heading for Liverpool were intercepted by Spitfires of No 611 Squadron, based at Ternhill, Shropshire, during the evening. One enemy aircraft was shot down and some crew members baled out of another, but the Dornier, though badly damaged, landed at Brest.
The Battle of Britain – 10 October 1940: The Luftwaffe threatened Kent, London, Manchester, Liverpool and a range of airfields during this 24 hour spell.
Over Tangmere at 8.15 am, two Spitfires of No 92 Squadron from Biggin Hill collided while attacking a Dornier. Both Flying Officer Drummond and Pilot Officer Williams were killed.
In an incident that was not uncommon, the No 249 Squadron Hurricane of Sergeant Bayly dropped away from a patrol over the Thames Estuary for no obvious reason and plunged into Cooling Marsh, Kent. Perhaps the pilot was affected by a glycol leak or oxygen failure.
In the mid afternoon a Hurricane of No 253 Squadron crashed into houses at Albion Place, Maidstone. Sergeant Allgood was killed.
The other RAF Commands continued to play their part in the war. During October Coastal Command began to receive the much-improved Mk ll version of ASV airborne radar for use against German U-boats. The first sets were fitted to Whitleys of No 502 Squadron, operating from Aldergrove, Northern Ireland.
The Battle of Britain – 9 October 1940: Messerschmitt Bf 109s were much in evidence during attacks on Kent and London, including airfields. London was hit at night.
Following one of the recent orders issued by Air Vice Marshal Park, the Hurricanes of Nos 253 and 501 Squadrons were operating together. Flying Officer Kenneth “Hawkeye” Lee of 501 described the frustration after he spotted enemy aircraft and warned his leader. The latter seemed slow to react, the E/As disappeared into cloud and there was a lack of helpful information from the controller, so no attack was made.
For one Bf 109 pilot the war ended in unusual circumstances. While over Kent Leutnant Escherhaus’s dinghy inflated in his cockpit. He forced landed into captivity near Eastry.
The Battle of Britain – 8 October 1940: London was hit by day and night. Considerable numbers of bombs fell in the centre of London, including on Horse Guards Parade and the War Office.
During a routine morning patrol by No 303 Squadron, a Hurricane crashed at Cuddington Way, Ewell, Surrey and Sergeant Josef Frantisek was killed.
This Czech pilot, flying with a Polish squadron, is now generally recognised as the highest scoring Fighter Command pilot during the Battle of Britain. Shortly before his death he had become one of “The Few” who sat for the artist Cuthbert Orde. Frantisek was buried in Northwood Cemetery, Middlesex.
The Battle of Britain – 7 October 1940: There was considerable activity today, with hostile aircraft intercepted over Kent and an attack on the Westland works at Yeovil. Westhampnett and Tangmere were among airfields theatened.
There were casualties amongst the aircraft engaged on both sides. The raid on Yeovil, for example, led to the death of Sergeant Alan Feary, an “ace” on No 609 Squadron. His Spitfire was hit as he attacked a Bf 110 and he eventually baled out too low.
At the time Squadron Leader Michael Robinson had just taken over from “George” Darley as CO of 609. Darley had moved to take command of RAF Exeter as a Wing Commander.
Robinson wrote to Alan Feary’s widowed mother in Derby: “His reputation as a brave and fearless fighter pilot was handed over to me by his previous commanding officer and I could say that he died as he would have wished – for his country. It would be difficult to tell you how much he will be missed by his fellow pilots.”
The Battle of Britain – 6 October 1940: Rain and low cloud ensured that there was very limited Luftwaffe activity over Britain by both day and night. A single raider inflicted damage at Biggin Hill and death and destruction was caused at Northolt.
At this time, Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Aircraft Production, was complaining that the RAF was not doing enough to protect aircraft factories. This, however, was more part of a campaign by Beaverbrook against the Air Ministry than a logical criticism of Fighter Command.
The Battle of Britain – 5 October 1940: During the day, single raiders were followed by formations of bombers, fighter bombers and fighters. In Kent, watchers on the ground were able to see dogfights.
In Barnfield Road, Plumstead, 11 people died in one bombing. A brother and sister evacuated to Devon did not find out until December that they had been orphaned in the Barnfield Road tragedy.
Squadrons in action today included Nos 1 (RCAF) and No 303 from Northolt, Nos 41 and 603 (Hornchurch), 66 (Gravesend), 72 (Biggin Hill) and 607 (Tangmere).
The Battle of Britain – 4 October 1940: Today saw many attacks on London by single Luftwaffe aircraft, with bombs falling on towns in Kent and Surrey.
The RAF achieved significant success during these attacks. At about 10 past ten in the morning, for instance, a Junkers Ju 88 exploded over Southwold, Suffolk during an attack by Squadron Leader Bob Tuck, commanding officer of No 257 Squadron. All the occupants of the aircraft died. As late as the 1970s wreckage from the Junkers could still be found on a nearby beach.
At night London was bombed yet again. One Londoner, aged 12 in 1940, later described his experience in Stepney during the Blitz.
Part of his account covered an occasion when he was in the Anderson shelter in the backyard. “I remember that we’d been in the shelter for a long time and it was very hot and stuffy. Then the bomb hit the house. First we heard the swish as it came down. You knew it was near if you heard the swish.
“We heard an explosion and at the same time the shelter heaved up and down and filled with dust and smoke. We could see flames. Then the house must have collapsed because we got covered in bricks and stuff.”
The Battle of Britain – 3 October 1940: Thameshaven, Cambridge, Tangmere and the London suburbs came under attack today.
One Junkers Ju 88 bombed the de Havilland works at Hatfield, Hertfordshire, causing damage, deaths and other casualties.
The aircraft was hit by fire from the ground defences and came down in flames at Eastend Green Farm near Hertingfordbury. Oberleutnant Fiebig and the rest of the crew were captured by farm workers.
This was a day on which Fighter Command suffered no deaths in combat, although a Blenheim from No 600 Squadron at Redhill crashed at Forest Row, Sussex, after engine failure; Pilot Officer Hobson, Sergeant Hughes from New Zealand and AC2 Cooper were killed.
The Battle of Britain – 2 October 1940: London came under attack by day and night and Biggin Hill was bombed.
Despite the bombing, changes in the cabinet were proceeding in London. The former Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain retired through ill health – he would die of cancer in November – and refused an offer of the Garter, saying that he wished to die as “Mr Chamberlain”. His ashes were placed in Westminster Abbey on 14 November.
Herbert Morrison reluctantly took over from Sir John Anderson as Home Secretary. Among the reasons why both men are remembered by history is that they had air raid shelters named after them.
The Battle of Britain – 1 October 1940: From now on a significant feature of the German daytime operations would be fighters, converted to fighter bomber mode, often coming over at high altitude.
This use of modified Bf 109s and Bf 110s was apparent today in attacks on Southampton and Portsmouth. London was also bombed.
The more orthodox Luftwaffe bombers came over at night and attacked London, as well as other areas including Glasgow, Manchester and Swansea.
The high scoring Pilot Officer “Ben” Bennions, of No 41 Squadron, baled out seriously wounded, a cannon shell having exploded in his cockpit as a result of combat with Bf 109s over Sussex. He would become a member of the Guinea Pig Club. The award of the DFC to Bennions was also announced today.
The Battle of Britain – 30 September 1940: Today saw heavy fighting.
The Dorset town of Sherborne took a pasting, with 18 people killed, including at least one child who was an evacuee from London. Bombs fell on Sherborne school during lessons, but there were no casualties there.
The German force had been briefed to attack the Westland works at Yeovil, but, with cloud obscuring the target, they bombed blind – and missed Westland by about six miles.
There was much daytime action over Kent and some bombers fought through to reach London. The capital and other population centres were heavily attacked that night.
The Battle of Britain – 29 September 1940: A generally quiet day. Convoys received some attention from the Luftwaffe and some formations came across the Channel at a considerable height.
In the early evening, Hurricanes of No 79 Squadron, flying from Pembrey in south Wales, attacked eight Heinkel He 111s over the Irish Sea. During the engagement Flying Officer Peters was shot down and killed and Pilot Officer “Neddy” Nelson-Edwards baled out into the sea; he was picked up by a steamship.
Pilot Officer Mayhew forced-landed in a field at Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, Ireland. He was interned by the Irish authorities, but eventually escaped to Northern Ireland in the summer of 1941, only to be fatally injured in a crash in 1942. All RAF personnel held in Ireland had been returned to the UK by the end of 1943.
The Battle of Britain – 28 September 1940: Fighter Command suffered rather more heavily than the Luftwaffe during German operations against London and Portsmouth.
Among the RAF losses was Sergeant Eric Bann of No 238 Squadron, who baled out of his Hurricane over the Isle of Wight but whose parachute did not open.
He was a native of Macclesfield, Cheshire, and in reporting his death the Macclesfield Courier and Herald wrote: “It is with intense regret that we learn of his death, and we sympathise greatly with his family; but they can find comfort in the knowledge that their son died defending his home and the women and children of his land from the threat from the air.”
The Battle of Britain – 27 September 1940: There were heavy attacks on London, though many of the enemy aircraft involved were shot down or turned back before they reached their target. Bristol was another Luftwaffe objective.
A Spitfire crashed on homes in West Wickham, Kent. The pilot, Flying Officer Paul Davies-Cooke from No 72 Squadron at Biggin Hill, baled out but fell dead. Shortly before that, a Hurricane of No 213 Squadron had fallen on Wildernesse golf course, near Sevenoaks. Flight Lieutenant Lionel Schwind was killed and a memorial stone was later placed at the crash site.
The wreckage of a Junkers Ju 88 that failed to make London was recorded on film by Fox Photos at Cudham, Kent. The crew had baled out after the machine was hit by AA fire, but the parachute of one failed to open.
Another Ju 88, attacked by fighters, fell burning on Folly Farm, South Holmwood, near Dorking; one of the non-commissioned crew survived.
The defences had done very well. Although history does not now single out today as one of the great moments of the Battle, there was a differing view at the time.
The following day Sir Archibald Sinclair Bt, the Secretary of State for Air, received a message from the Prime Minister which read in part: “Pray congratulate the Fighter Command on the results of yesterday. The scale and intensity of the fighting and the heavy losses of the enemy ……. make 27 September rank with 15 September and 15 August as the third great and victorious day of the Fighter Command during the course of the Battle of Britain.”
The Battle of Britain – 26 September 1940: Much damage was caused in an attack on the Supermarine works at Woolston today, while at night London and Liverpool were hit.
Flight Lieutenant “Jumbo” Deanesly of No 152 Squadron baled out south of The Needles in the late afternoon following combat with Bf 109s. He was rescued by a Royal Navy launch and landed at Swanage.
This was the second time during the Battle that Deanesly had been saved from the sea. He went on to be a successful Defiant night fighter pilot.
Two Messerschmitt Bf 110s came down on the Isle of Wight and one fell into the sea west of Cowes. One crew member survived.
The Battle of Britain – 25 September 1940: A major attack took place on the Bristol Aeroplane Company’s works at Filton, causing heavy damage and many casualties. A diversionary raid was launched against the Royal Navy’s Portland base. No 601 Squadron engaged a force of bombers and fighters near Plymouth.
No 152 Squadron lost two pilots killed in separate actions. Sergeant Ken Holland, from Sydney, New South Wales, was 20. He was cremated at Weymouth and his guardian had a memorial stone placed near the site of the crash. This was later moved a short distance to St Lawrence Church, Woolverton, Somerset.
Sergeant Bill Silver, aged 27, was seen by another pilot being jumped by a Bf 109. The Spitfire dived vertically into the sea. Bill Silver was interred in Milton Road Cemetery, Portsmouth. His daughter Joyce was buried in the same grave in 1965, having died aged 26.
The Battle of Britain – 24 September 1940: A large German attack on London was defeated by RAF fighters this morning. The Supermarine works at Woolston, Southampton, was attacked, and while there was little damage to the buildings, many casualties were suffered when a shelter was hit. There was widespread night time bombing.
Squadron Leader Robert Lister, flying with No 92 Squadron, had returned to flying after fracturing his spine in a take off crash in 1939. Today he found himself surrounded by nine Bf 109s. He was wounded, but escaped and crash landed his damaged Spitfire at Biggin Hill. This time his injuries ended his flying career.
A success for Anti-Aircraft Command was the Heinkel He lll, part of the night attack on London, that broke up over Chobham, Surrey. Unteroffizier Niemeyer and Gefreiters Leibnitz, Wenlich and Jenreck all took to their parachutes and survived as PoWs.
The Battle of Britain – 23 September 1940: About 200 hostile aircraft were detected over Calais at 9 am today. They proved to be mainly Messerschmitt Bf 109s in a number of waves of varying sizes.
Once the 109s had passed Dover, they were engaged in combat by RAF fighters. Further waves came over later in the day. London suffered badly at night, while Berlin was attacked by Bomber Command.
Fighter casualties today included Pilot Officer Walter Beaumont of No 152 Squadron at Warmwell, Dorset, whose Spitfire was believed to have crashed into the Channel during a sortie.
A former member of the London University Air Squadron, he appears to have been officially, the first person to join the RAFVR – his number was 740000. The award of the DFC to Walter Beaumont was announced on October 22 1940. In 1999 a plaque was unveiled in his memory at Calder High School, Mytholmroyd, West Yorkshire.
Flying Officer Terry Kane of No 234 Squadron shot down a Bf 109 off the French coast, but was then forced to bale out and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner.
In July 2013 Wing Commander Kane, then aged 92, was one of the holders of the Battle of Britain Clasp who attended the annual Memorial Day at Capel-le-Ferne.
The Battle of Britain – 22 September 1940: There was fog, cloud and rain during the day and London suffered badly overnight.
A hangar was set on fire during an attack on Digby airfield in Lincolnshire. In south east London at least nine people were reported killed in the bombing of 92-94 Shooters Hill Road, near Blackheath.
The American government warned Britain that a source in Berlin was indicating that the invasion would begin today. The report proved to be false.
The Battle of Britain – 21 September 1940: Amidst slight activity today was the bombing of the Hawker works at Brooklands by a single Junkers Ju 88, with no serious damage caused.
There were evening attacks on a number of airfields and the centre of London. The capital and several other cities and towns suffered moderately during the night.
Air Chief Marshal Dowding dined with the Prime Minister and others at Chequers. According to John Colville, one of the private secretaries to the Prime Minister, “Sir H Dowding said the Poles in our fighter squadrons were very dashing but totally undisciplined”. Colville was surprised at how concerned his boss still was about the prospect of imminent invasion.
The Battle of Britain – 20 September 1940: Shortly after midnight, the pilot of a Junkers Ju 88 lost control of his aircraft, which crashed and exploded on numbers 2 and 4 Richmond Avenue, Merton, Surrey. The occupants of the two houses were in their Anderson shelters and survived. Three of the crew of the bomber died and one was captured after baling out.
In fighting later that day there were losses for both sides. At about 11.15 a No 222 Squadron Spitfire crashed at Higham, Rochester and the body of Pilot Officer Lawrence “Hops” Whitbread was found nearby. He came from Ludlow, Shropshire.
An indication of the esteem in which the RAF was now held came when the Mayor of Ludlow wrote a letter to Whitbread’s parents which included the words: “His was one of the lives Ludlow and England can ill afford to lose for it is to him and his Air Force we have to look for the safety of Ludlow and England.
“I have known him for 20 years and have watched his career with great interest – he always did what was expected of him, even to his glorious end.”
The custom of illuminating St Lawrence’s church in Ludlow on 20 September each year in memory of Laurie Whitbread has been revived.
The Battle of Britain – 19 September 1940: There were limited attacks on London and Liverpool today. A parachute mine landed on Heston aerodrome and caused much destruction and damage to aircraft, including Spitfires of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit.
A Junkers Ju 88, on a reconnaissance sortie, suffered engine problems and forced-landed on Oakington airfield in Cambridgeshire. All the crew members were taken prisoner.
The Battle of Britain – 18 September 1940: There was combat over Kent this morning between RAF and Luftwaffe fighters. German bombers came over later, but many turned back in the face of strong opposition.
A force heading up the Thames towards London was met by No 12 Group’s “Duxford Wing” led by Squadron Leader “Tin Legs” Bader of No 242 Squadron. A number of the German aircraft were shot down, though nowhere near the 30 claimed at the time.
Today also saw one of those incidents in which RAF pilots who would not later be awarded the Battle of Britain Clasp were credited with destroying an enemy aircraft. One Dornier Do 17 was shot down and another was damaged by Squadron Leader McLean, Flying Officer Brotchie and Sergeant Armitage, who were serving with No 7 Operational Training Unit at Hawarden, near Chester. OTUs were not included among the qualifying units for the Clasp. Controversy over incidents such as this continues 73 years later.
A parachute mine landed on County Hall in London and shattered windows as far away as Downing Street.
The Battle of Britain – 17 September 1940: A key event today was Hitler’s postponement, until further notice, of Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of Britain. He held out the possibility that it might take place even in October, despite the imminent threat by then of winter weather.
More than 250 German bombers attacked London tonight, with much damage done in the West End. Travelling in the opposite direction, aircraft of Bomber and Coastal Commands maintained the pressure on the enemy invasion preparations.
The Battle of Britain – 16 September 1940: Both sides issued new orders today. At Uxbridge, Air Vice Marshal Park required even more efficiency in meeting incoming raids, including ending incidences of RAF aircraft seeking out high flying German fighter formations while bombers slipped through. He also wanted rendezvous procedures improved.
Squadrons based at Northolt and Tangmere would be used in ‘wings’ where this was practicable and the size of the German attack justified the procedure.
Across the Channel, Goering ordered a reduction in mass formations and forecast the likely destruction of the remaining RAF fighters in four or five days.
In the book The Narrow Margin (Wood and Dempster) it is recorded that “the dull weather was lightened for both sides by the solemn announcement in the German war communique that Goering himself had flown over London in a Ju 88. Apart from lacking the courage for such an enterprise, it was a physical impossibility, as the Reichsmarschall’s girth precluded him getting through the door of a Ju 88, and even in the four motor Condor he had to have a special wide seat with thigh supports.”
London and other cities were bombed at night, with some bombs falling in Stanmore but not affecting the Fighter Command HQ at Bentley Priory.
The Battle of Britain – 15 September 1940: Now commemorated as “Battle of Britain Day”, today was the day people in Kent and London witnessed large battles between Fighter Command and the Luftwaffe.
German casualties were heavy, although not nearly as heavy as was claimed at the time.
Many would remember the Dornier, part of which fell on the forecourt of Victoria station in London, having been attacked by a number of fighters. Sadly the idea that it was deliberately rammed by a Hurricane of No 504 Squadron holds little water.
Large formations of German aircraft were detected building up across the Channel at around 11 am. A second attack would follow at lunch time. Squadrons from Nos 10, 11 and 12 Groups all took part in the actions against these formations.
Just before noon, a Hurricane of No 229 Squadron from Northolt crashed at Staplehurst railway station in Kent; the Belgian pilot, Pilot Officer Georges Doutrepont, was killed, as was 18-year-old booking clerk Charles Ashdown, who had agreed to change his shift that day to help a colleague.
Not long after the tragedy at Staplehurst a Spitfire of No 609 Squadron crashed and burned out near Kenley. The dead pilot, Pilot Officer Geoff Gaunt, a pre-war weekend flyer with the squadron, was not found until four days later. His comrade David Crook, in his book Spitfire Pilot, would remember Geoff Gaunt as: “This very gallant and delightful friend”.
No 609 Squadron also achieved success, as evidenced by the spectacular results in the camera gun of Flight Lieutenant Frank Howell as a Bf 110 was destroyed over Hastings.
This was one of the occasions during the Battle when the Prime Minister visited the No 11 Group operations room at Uxbridge. The drama of this occasion would stay particularly in his mind.
At the end of the day the Luftwaffe was even further from gaining the air superiority demanded by Hitler than it had been at the beginning. The Battle of Britain – 15 September 1940: Now commemorated as “Battle of Britain Day”, today was the day people in Kent and London witnessed large battles between Fighter Command and the Luftwaffe.
The Battle of Britain – 14 September 1940: Hitler stressed again today to his senior commanders that complete air superiority was required on the British side of the Channel.
He set 17 September as a new date for invasion, though his Navy feared that the plan would be affected by further losses of the barges to be used in the invasion, which were being subjected to heroic attacks by Bomber Command, Coastal Command and the Fleet Air Arm in what has gone down in history as the “Battle of the Barges”.
Three raids during the afternoon crossed the Kent coast and headed for London. Soon after 4 pm a Hurricane of No 73 Squadron crashed on Parkhouse Farm, Chart Sutton, near Maidstone, with Sergeant John Brimble being reported missing. Forty years later his remains were found during an excavation of the site and he was buried with full military honours in Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey.
At around 6 pm No 253 Squadron suffered the loss of two Hurricanes. Sergeant James Anderson baled out with severe burns but Sergeant Burley Higgins, who had been a school teacher before the war, was still in his aircraft when it fell in flames in an orchard at Swanton Farm, Bredgar, near Sittingbourne.
The grave of Burley Higgins is in the churchyard of St Lawrence at Whitwell, Derbyshire, close to his family home and the Church of England school at which he taught. On his CWGC headstone is a variation of the words from the poem For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon: “At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember him”.
The Battle of Britain – 13 September 1940: Once again the weather interfered with German operations but there were attempts to attack Biggin Hill and Tangmere.
It was claimed by a Royal Navy officer that a Blenheim dropped bombs in Dover harbour. If the report was correct, it was presumably an aircraft captured by the enemy in France. Casualties in the air on both sides were light.
The Battle of Britain – 12 September 1940: Further poor weather resulted in a quiet day and there was limited activity at night, although bombs fell on London and a number of other areas.
At Newport, Monmouthshire, the balloon barrage brought down a raider. A delayed action bomb fell very close to St Paul’s Cathedral in London. It took three days to remove, after which it was taken to Hackney marshes and exploded. For their actions in dealing with this bomb, two Royal Engineers, Lieutenant Robert Davies and Sapper George Wyllie later each received the George Cross. Two other members of the bomb disposal team were awarded the British Empire Medal.
The Battle of Britain – 11 September 1940: Better weather saw London, Southampton and Portsmouth attacked in the afternoon. With bigger formations now appearing, Air Vice Marshal Park at No 11 Group ordered that squadrons should operate in pairs whenever possible. German subterfuge now included attempts to jam Brtitish radar and Luftwaffe aircraft attempting to confuse the defences by mixing with returning British bombers.
At about 4pm a direct hit on a brick shelter in Albion Street, Lewisham, killed 36 people. At around the same time a considerable number died as they sheltered in a Methodist hall in Creek Road, Deptford. A bomb demolished much of a school in Plumstead. The pupils had been evacuated, but an Auxiliary Fire Service station had been established on the premises and two firemen died.
RAF casualties included Pilot Officer Arthur Clarke of No 504 Squadron, whose Hurricane fell not far from Rookelands farmhouse on Romney Marsh. Two years previously Arthur Clarke had been school captain at Cheadle Hulme School in Cheshire. His remains were found many years later and left where they were at the request of his family. Now a small memorial stands at the roadside, often marked by flowers. Also on Romney Marsh, at Burmash, Fox Photos was present to record the scene as soldiers took away members of the crew of a Heinkel He lll while their aircraft burned and a Spitfire flew over.
The No 92 Squadron Spitfire of Pilot Officer Harry Edwards crashed into a wood at Evegate Manor Farm, Smeeth, near Ashford, though the wreckage was not found until 7 October. Edwards was buried in what is now Hawkinge Cemetery. The words his family chose for his IWGC (now CWGC) headstone were: “In loving memory of Harry of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Nobly he lived, gloriously he died. We will remember him.”
The Battle of Britain – 10 September 1940: A quieter day, with cloud and rain preventing the Germans mounting large scale daytime operations.
A few targets came under attack from 5 pm, including Tangmere, West Malling and Portsmouth. Bombs fell close to the Poling chain home station near Littlehampton. At night, London was attacked, along with south Wales and Merseyside.
The Battle of Britain – 9 September 1940: Daylight hours proved good for the RAF. Formations heading for targets in London and the Thames Estuary, as well as the Brooklands aircraft factories, were mostly broken up, with German aircraft turning back in the face of the opposition.
The day produced plenty of German wrecks in southern England to enable enthusiastic youngsters to add to their collections of souvenirs. A Bf 110, for example, crashed at Woodcote Park Avenue, Woodmansterne, Surrey, with both crew members killed. Another, hit by anti aircraft fire, fell in flames to hit the ground at Borden near Sittingbourne. Again the crew did not escape.
Later, though, London came under heavy attack for the third night running.
The Battle of Britain – 8 September 1940: A year ago, at the start of the war, the Government had feared all out bombing and the collapse of civilian morale. Today, some may have felt that those horrors had only been delayed by a year.
The Kentish Independent newspaper reported from Woolwich that there were “…aged people and mothers with babies in arms, cripples and even a couple of blind men, still in clothes torn and dirtied when their homes collapsed around them. The shock of their experience and the loss of their homes seemed to have numbed their minds and reduced them to the depths of despair.”
Morale certainly did not collapse, but it might have come under more threat if Londoners had realised that they now faced the constant barrage of the Blitz until the spring of 1941.
As yesterday, there was not much activity until the approach of nighttime – and then the bombers returned, with the fires from the previous night there to light many of them to their targets.
At this stage there was little that the RAF could do against night attacks, though the race was on to deliver Beaufighters and improve the radar they would carry. Anti aircraft gunners performed gallantly and had some success, but one reason that they kept firing was to demonstrate to the people being bombed that something was being done. Houses near AA sites were often damaged by the detritus from the guns rather than the activities of the Luftwaffe.
The Battle of Britain – 7 September 1940: Some historians feel that today – “Black Saturday” in the East End – was the day the Germans lost the Battle of Britain. The pressure was taken off the RAF airfields and a vast attack on London was launched.
To attribute this change of plan solely to a Nazi wish for revenge after Bomber Command had attacked Berlin is simplistic. There were clearly additional reasons, including the flawed German intelligence which led the High Command to believe that the state of Fighter Command was even more parlous than it was. The Germans reasoned that if London were attacked, Dowding would have to throw all his remaining reserves into the fight to save the capital. Pride was a major factor, but it was not the only consideration.
There was fine weather, which caused puzzlement on the British side that things were so quiet. In the Observer Corps operations room at Maidstone, the quiet ended at 4.16 pm with a report that “many hundreds” of enemy aircraft were approaching the Kent coast between Deal and North Foreland. The first inkling of great events came to the Sergeant pilots of No 501 Squadron in a cinema in Gravesend, when the manager passed on an urgent message to return to the airfield. Squadron Leader Hogan had previously sent them off to relax.
The Hurricanes and Spitfires fought to defend London, with a major confrontation taking place over the Isle of Sheppey, but that night enormous fires (the worst of them “conflagrations” out of control in fire service terminology) burned north and south of the Thames.
Auxiliary fire fighters had over the previous year sometimes been treated with contempt by the public, with accusations that they were “war dodgers” or taking part in the “Sitzkrieg”.
Now these auxiliaries were in the front line, fighting the fires amongst boxes of live ammunition and explosives at the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, molten tar flowing through the docks, blazing stacks of timber in the Surrey Docks and flaming streams of rum and other products flooding out of warehouses. The superstructures of ships burned and barrels exploded like the bombs that kept on falling. From as far away as Birmingham fire crews were racing to help.
In a splendid show of defiance, the Woolwich Free Ferry operated all through that terrible night, the crew ignoring the bombs and the burning oil on the river to carry many East Enders in search of some safety.
The Battle of Britain – 6 September 1940: The bombers returned to Thameshaven and to many other targets. No 303, one of the two Polish Hurricane squadrons in the Battle of Britain, found itself in a desperate fight over Kent and suffered casualties. They included Squadron Leader Krasnodebski, who baled out badly burned, Squadron Leader “Boozy” Kellett, who forced-landed at Biggin Hill wounded in one leg, and the Canadian, Flight Lieutenant Johnny Kent (“Kentowski” to his Polish comrades), who forced-landed, wounded, at Northolt where the squadron was based.
Francis Mason in his book, Battle over Britain, suggested that the Germans had learned to identify No 303 Squadron and its call sign in the air from the Polish accents and were broadcasting false messages, such as: “All Apany aircraft to pancake” – “Apany” being the 303 call sign and “pancake” RAF jargon for an order to land.
One of the high scoring Spitfire pilots of the Battle of Britain, Pilot Officer “Ben” Bennions of No 41 Squadron, added to his tally in the early evening when a Bf 109 he was attacking exploded over the mouth of the River Medway. Unteroffizier Hempel was killed. This was one of two 109s destroyed today by the former aircraft apprentice.
The Battle of Britain – 5 September 1940: German raids today were spread over eight hours. Successful RAF squadrons included Nos 17, 43, 303 ND 501 (Hurricanes) and 41 (Spitfires). Oil tanks at Thameshaven were set on fire.
At about 2 25pm three Spitfires of No 72 Squadron were lost in combat with Bf 109s. Pilot Officer “Snowy” Winter baled out too low and was killed, the aircraft crashing into Covert Wood, Elham, Kent; Flying Officer Des Sheen, an Australian, baled out wounded, and Sergeant Malcolm “Mabel” Gray’s fell into Elham Park Wood where two brothers tried unsuccessfully to drag the pilot from the flames.
Malcolm Gray was buried in a family grave at Fulford, near York, with the inscription on the headstone: “To the Glorious Memory of our dearly loved son, Sergeant Pilot Malcolm Gray 72 (Fighter) Squadron (Spitfire) RAF, killed in action in Defence of Britain, September 5 1940 aged 20 years. Faithful unto Death.”
The Battle of Britain – 4 September 1940: Lympne and Eastchurch airfields were attacked today, as was the Short factory at Rochester, where Stirling bombers were being built.
A force of Bf 110s carrying bombs, briefed to attack the Hawker factory, was engaged by the Hurricanes of No 253 Squadron and a number were shot down. Pilot Officer “Corky” Corkett was one victorious pilot, reporting that he attacked a 110 which “broke formation, climbed 500 ft, turned over and dived straight down, exploding in a field.”
Pilot Officer Nowak, a Polish pilot, claimed a 110 which he saw catch fire and crash. Some of the enemy aircraft, though, escaped from this mauling and, by mistake, bombed the nearby Vickers factory at Brooklands, causing heavy loss of life.
At about 1.35 pm, a No 222 Squadron Spitfire, shot down by Bf 109s, crashed near Yalding, Kent. The 24-year-old pilot, Sergeant John Ramshaw, from Beverley, Yorkshire, a former clerk with the Halifax Building Society, died on his way to hospital.
The book ‘The Battle of Britain Then and Now’ recorded that “On Thursday September 12 a large number of the inhabitants of Beverley attended his funeral in Queensgate cemetery to pay their respects. The coffin, draped with the Union Jack, was carried by six Sergeants of the Royal Air Force followed by a contingent of airmen. One of those present was Irene Williams, his young fiancee.”
In 1999 a memorial plaque honouring John Ramshaw was unveiled at Beverley Grammar School, where he had been a pupil.
The Battle of Britain – 3 September 1940: North Weald airfield was badly hit and, as the raiders tried to make their escape, a major fight developed over the south east. Hurricane squadrons engaged included Nos 1, 17, 46, 249, 257, 302 and 310. There was much frustration for the Spitfire pilots of No 19 Squadron, with weapons often jamming in their cannon-fitted aircraft.
One of the day’s casualties was Pilot Officer Richard Hillary of No 603 Squadron, who baled out of his Spitfire grievously burned and was rescued from the sea by the Margate lifeboat. Hilary would become a Guinea Pig and go on to write the book, The Last Enemy.
Over North Weald a Blenheim of No 25 Squadron was attacked by a No 46 Squadron Hurricane. Pilot Officer Douglas Hogg died at the controls, though Sergeant Powell baled out unhurt. Douglas Hogg lies with his parents in a family grave in Eastwood Cemetery, Glasgow. On the stone is the inscription, “One of The Few to whom so many owe so much”.
The Battle of Britain – 2 September 1940: Biggin Hill, Eastchurch, Kenley, North Weald, Hornchurch and Rochford airfields were all targeted today, as was the airfield at Brooklands, used by the Hawker and Vickers companies.
An RAF casualty today was Flying Officer Arthur Rose-Price (brother of the actor Dennis Price), who was killed on his first day with No 501 Squadron.
Also lost was Pilot Officer Anthony “Wombat” Woods-Scawen of No 43 Squadron. He had hidden poor eyesight to train as a pilot and had become engaged a few days before his death. Four days after he was killed it was announced that he had been awarded the DFC. On that day the body of his brother, Flying Officer Patrick “Weasel” or “Woodie” Woods-Scawen, DFC was found; Patrick had been reported missing on 1 September.
Later a tribute to the brothers appeared in the magazine of Salesian College in Hampshire, of which they were old boys. The last verse read:-
Then let us remember, and while there’s an ember
Of love for those young hearts at rest in the grave
To show by each deed the land that they freed
Is worthy of all that those dear lads gave.
The Battle of Britain – 1 September 1940: The intense attacks on Biggin Hill continued, leading to a decision to set up a temporary operations room in a shop close to the airfield. Among the relatively unrecognised heroes of Biggin Hill were the GPO engineers who had worked each day, often under fire, to restore communications.
No 85 Squadron, already depleted, suffered significant losses today. The remnants of this Hurricane squadron left Croydon two days later.
The Battle of Britain – 31 August 1940: The Luftwaffe pressure of the previous day was maintained and made this a very hard day for the RAF, with action starting early. Just before 8am Fighter Command HQ at Bentley Priory received news that waves of enemy aircraft were coming in over the Kent coast and the Thames estuary.
Biggin Hill was fiercely attacked and took a direct hit on the operations room. At Hornchurch three Spitfires were caught by bombs as they took off. The machine of Sergeant Davis was blown into the River Ingrebourne, but he escaped unhurt. Flight Lieutenant Deere was trapped upside down and was released by the pilot of the third aircraft, Pilot Officer Edsall.
Many people in Plumstead watched a Messerschmitt Bf 109 tumbling to earth. It was credited to Sergeant Jack Stokoe of No 603 Squadron. In the heated atmosphere of the time, controversy occurred later when a wreath appeared at the funeral of the pilot, Leutnant Binder, with the anonymous message “Some Mother’s Son” The squadron suffered other losses, including the death of Flying Officer “Bubble” Waterston who was killed, his Spitfire falling on Woolwich Common. Pilot Officer “Sheep” Gilroy’s aircraft crashed on a house in Hereford Road, Wanstead, Essex. On landing by parachute, he was attacked by a crowd in the belief that he was German. Legend has it that he was rescued by a bus conductress.
A Hurricane crashed on the foreshore at Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex and the body of Pilot Officer Gerry Maffett of No 257 Squadron was recovered. In the 1970s the remains of the aircraft were recovered and became an exhibit in the RAF Museum, Hendon.
During the course of this one desperate day, No 253 Squadron served under three COs. Squadron Leader Harold Starr baled out and was killed under his parachute, and so the former CO, Squadron Leader Tom Gleave – still flying with the squadron – resumed command. He was shot down over Biggin Hill and grievously burned. The senior flight commander, Flight Lieutenant Bill Cambridge (who would be killed on September 6), then took temporary charge.
Gleave would later recount how, having landed by parachute, he found his way to a farmhouse, where he had a dispute with the lady of the house. She wanted him to get into bed to await the ambulance. Gleave (who became a founder member of the Guinea Pig Club) knew the state he was in and didn’t want to ruin her clean sheets.
Such was the damage to Biggin Hill that the Spitfire pilots of No 72 Squadron, having been transferred to the station from Acklington the previous day, found that their new home was now officially Croydon. They would return to “Biggin on the Bump” a week and a half later. These days of intense attacks on the airfield between Westerham and Bromley in Kent, which were to continued tomorrow, also led to the award of MMs to three of its WAAF, Sergeant Mortimer, Sergeant Turner and Corporal Henderson.
The Battle of Britain – 30 August 1940: Liverpool again woke to clear-up operations after an overnight raid – and the forecast, meanwhile, was for several days of fine weather.
Major Luftwaffe activity over England began in the late morning, with German formations crossing the Kent coast at various points. Both Nos 222 and 253 Squadrons, newly arrived in No 11 Group territory, were thrown straight into action. Another wave of bombers, escorted by both Bf 109s and Bf 110s, appeared at around 1pm. By this time a bomb had, by chance, hit the main electricity grid, and several Chain Home and Chain Home Low stations, including Dover, Fairlight and Rye, were temporarily off the air.
In the late afternoon an even larger enemy force came streaming over Kent and the Thames Estuary. Biggin Hill was badly hit and suffered nearly 40 deaths, caused in part by a direct hit on a shelter. There was heavy loss of life at the Vauxhall works at Luton and the Handley Page factory at Radlett, Hertfordshire was hit. Liverpool suffered again at night.
Anyone watching from the ground in the area of Oxted, Surrey, might have seen two Messerschmitt Bf 109s fall to earth. They had collided during combat with RAF fighters. Both pilots survived as prisoners.
The Battle of Britain – 29 August 1940: Liverpool had been attacked overnight and the raiders were to return later this evening. Meanwhile during daylight hours most activity took place during the afternoon.
An RAF pilot who achieved success today was Sergeant Glendon Booth of No 85 Squadron, who shot down a Bf 109 which forced landed near Pevensey, Sussex, with Oberfeldwebel Lampskemper being captured.
Glen Booth would achieve more success before he was badly burned and injured on 1 September, eventually dying as a result in February 1941. There is a well known photograph of a pilot asleep in an armchair which is sometimes claimed to show Glen Booth. It does not – the extensive evidence includes the testimony of his sister.
The Battle of Britain – 28 August 1940: Airfields continued to come under attack today and there were major engagements between RAF and Luftwaffe fighters.
A British pilot forced to take to his parachute was Squadron Leader Don Finlay, flying as a supernumerary in No 54 Squadron. His Spitfire was shot down over Ramsgate in combat with Bf 109s and Finlay was wounded.
Finlay was an outstanding athlete who had won a bronze medal at the 1932 Olympics and a silver in 1936 – both in the 110 metres hurdles. He competed in the same event at the 1948 Games in London and had also represented the RAF at Football and Rugby Union.
Flight Lieutenant “Al” Deere, a New Zealander from Auckland and also of No 54 Squadron, had baled out earlier in the day, his aircraft having been hit by fire from another Spitfire.
The Defiants of No 264 Squadron, flying from Hornchurch, were in action and unsurprisingly suffered casualties. One of the aircraft downed was that of the CO, Squadron Leader George Garvin. Both he and his air gunner, 31-year-old Flight Lieutenant Robert Ash, escaped from the aircraft, but Ash, an equipment officer before he volunteered for aircrew duties, was dead when he was found. It appeared that he had been machine gunned by a German fighter on the way down. Their aircraft crashed on Luddenham Marshes, Faversham.
Having suffered heavy casualties, the Defiant ceased to be used in daylight in the Battle. No 264 Squadron moved to Kirton-in-Lindsey, Lincolnshire.
As the day drew to close, overnight bombing raids began on Liverpool.
The Battle of Britain – 27 August 1940: In contrast to yesterday, the Luftwaffe posed little threat today.
This was the period of the Battle when a number of squadrons that had been depleted and wearied by their time on the front line were sent north for a rest. Today No 32 Squadron left Biggin Hill for Acklington in Northumberland. A number of recently arrived pilots, not considered to be in need of a rest, were sent to No 501 Squadron at Gravesend. No 32 Squadron returned south in mid December, with a move to Middle Wallop.
The Battle of Britain – 26 August 1940: There was heavy fighting, with airfields including Debden, Hornchurch and Biggin Hill targeted. Bombs fell across Kent, in many cases jettisoned by bombers that had failed to reach their targets.
Today was the day the “Goodwin Sands Dornier”, raised in 2013 under the auspices of the RAF Museum, went into the sea.
The RAF casualties included Pilot Officer William Walker of No 616 Squadron, who baled out wounded, was rescued from the Channel by the Navy and brought ashore at Ramsgate to be greeted by a cheering crowd. A collection of William’s poetry was published by the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust not long before his death in 2012. Copies are still available – including some signed by William.
The Battle of Britain – 25 August 1940: What began as a quiet day significantly changed its character from the late afternoon. A considerable force of bombers, with heavy fighter escort, headed towards Dorset with the airfield at Warmwell as one of its targets. Soon afterwards another large force headed towards Dover and the Thames estuary. Both attacks were heavily engaged by RAF fighters.
This was a period when there were moves to improve the British ability to rescue downed aircrew from the sea, something at which the Germans were considerably better at that stage of the war. For example, former army co-operation Lysanders were being used to search for downed airmen and were now under the control of Fighter Command.
Packs containing flourescine, a chemical that caused the sea around an airman to turn bright green, were being issued. This morning they were handed out to Hurricane pilots of No 32 Squadron at Biggin Hill, who were told to sew the packs on their lifejackets. Not everyone did so immediately, but one who did was Pilot Officer Jack Rose. He was shot down into the Channel during the evening, and two hours later a searching aircraft spotted the dye and directed a ship to his position. Rose survived into old age.
The Battle of Britain – 24 August 1940: With fine and clear weather across southern England, the Luftwaffe began to put into practice orders issued a few days previously by Goering. They were aimed at weakening Fighter Command “by means of ceaselss attacks”.
Manston, North Weald and Hornchurch were among the airfields hit. About 100 people were killed during an attack on Portsmouth. Poor navigation was the main reason why bombs intended for Rochester and the oil installations at Thameshaven fell in various parts of London.
At East Langdon near Dover, a Messerschmitt Bf 109 forced landed in a field after combat with RAF fighters over Manston. The pilot, Oberfeldwebel Beeck, surrendered to an armed police officer.
A Heinkel He lll of Legion Condor crash landed at Bulphan, Essex. The crew, some wounded, escaped before it exploded. Later the News Chronicle newspaper photographed the remains being guarded by men of the Home Guard, with a very young ARP messenger also present.
The Heinkel had been attacking Hornchurch airfield when it fell to the Hurricanes of Squadron Leader Kayll and Pilot Officer McClintock of No 615 Squadron. Joe Kayll had been one of a very small number of pilots awarded both the DSO and DFC for the Battle of France. He later led the Hornchurch Wing, became a PoW and was persistent in escape activities.
The Battle of Britain – 23 August 1940: The Fort Dunlop tyre works in Birmingham was attacked, as were targets in south Wales and various other locations including Tangmere, Maidstone, Colchester and Harwich. Bombs were jettisoned in the London suburbs.
A Dornier attacking factories in Coventry fell to anti aircraft fire and made a forced landed at Lodge Farm, Wickham Brook, near Bury St Edmunds. The crew was captured, including Oberleutnant Hellmers, a Staffel Kapitan.
The Battle of Britain – 22 August 1940: In what was a day of limited enemy activity, Fighter Command nevertheless suffered a number of casualties. In the early evening, two Spitfires of No 616 Squadron were hit in combat with Bf 109s over Dover. Pilot Officer “Buck” Casson managed to return to Kenley, but Flying Officer “Cocky” Dundas, after struggling to escape from his stricken aircraft, took to his parachute and landed on Adam and Eve Hill at the village of Elham, with a dislocated shoulder. His aircraft fell nearby.
At much the same time a Spitfire of No 65 Squadron, flown by Sergeant Michael Keymer, crashed at the village of Bazinghen, in the Pas de Calais. French civilians later reported that a German officer shot the badly injured pilot as he lay on the ground. He was buried in the village churchyard and local people established the custom of holding a service every year at his grave.
Michael Keymer’s brother John was lost as a Sergeant in Bomber Command. The Wellington from No 149 Squadron, of which he was skipper, failed to return from an attack on Hamburg in May 1941. One of the air gunners who was lost with him was Sergeant Thomas Nathan Menage, who had flown in Blenheims of No 29 Squadron in the Battle of Britain.
The Battle of Britain – 21 August 1940: More poor weather was a problem for the Luftwaffe but it mounted “tip and run” raids that resulted in a significant number of German casualties. A Dorner, for instance, tasked to attack North Weald airfield, fell in the early evening at Gippeswyk Park, Ipswich. It was claimed by Flight Lieutenant “Squeak” Weaver and Flying Officer Brooker of No 56 Squadron. The crew survived to be taken prisoner.
Brooker was slightly wounded by return fire from the Dornier and his aircraft was damaged. It burned out after he forced-landed at the village of Bramford, west of Ipswich.
Ten days later Weaver was shot down in combat with enemy fighters over Colchester. His Hurricane fell into the River Blackwater and his name appears on the Runnymede Memorial.
“Squeak” Weaver’s initials were P S W, hence his nickname, which was a reference to the long running Daily Mirror/Sunday Pictorial cartoon characters, Pip, Squeak and Wilfred. The set of three medals most commonly awarded to soldiers who served in the Great War was also known by those names.
The Battle of Britain – 20 August 1940: Although activity was restricted by cloud and rain, Pembroke Dock was bombed again and there were attacks on various towns and airfields, shipping and the Dover balloon barrage.
A Blenheim of No 236 Squadron, based at St Eval in Cornwall, was hit by anti aircraft fire over Pembroke Dock, but managed to return to its base. One of the Fleet Air Arm pilots attached to RAF squadrons was lost when a Hurricane flown by Midshipman P J Patterson dived into the sea off the east coast during a patrol by No 242 Squadron. The cause was not discovered. Patterson’s body wasn’t found and he is remembered on the Fleet Air Arm Memorial, Lee-on-Solent.
The Battle of Britain – 19 August 1940: While there was far less activity than on the previous day, there were several attacks, including one on Dover. Various cities suffered at night, including Liverpool, Southampton, Bristol, Leicester and Sheffield.
Pembroke Dock in south west Wales, where there was a Coastal Command base, was attacked, leaving oil tanks blazing. It was claimed that the fire, which lasted well over two weeks, was the greatest conflagration in the UK since the Great Fire of London.
The Battle of Britain – 18 August 1940: RAF airfields were targeted today, including Kenley and Biggin Hill. Part of the German plan was to send bombers across the Channel at very low level to beat the British defences, but the Observer Corps post on Beachy Head gave an early warning of what was happening. Among a series of spectacular photographs of the low level formation taken by a German official photographer flying in a Dornier was one of people running for cover in Burgess Hill, Sussex, as the force crossed the town.
Both sides suffered heavy casualties in intense fighting. It was claimed that the Dornier that crash landed at Leaves Green near Biggin Hill had been brought down by fire from the Home Guard, but the evidence, including that of the pilot, Oberleutnant Lamberty, indicates that the Kenley ground defences and RAF fighters deserve the credit.
The Stukas suffered. Another memorable photograph, taken from the ground, shows one tumbling to destruction on the outskirts of Chichester.
Among the RAF pilots lost was Sergeant Peter Walley of No 615 Squadron, whose Hurricane crashed at Morden. Witnesses suggested that he had stayed with the stricken aircraft to steer it away from houses. Others described another piece of heroism; Flight Lieutenant “Conny” Connors of No 111 Squadron still firing at a German bomber from his burning Hurricane, moments before it crashed. The aircraft had been hit by anti-aircraft fire over Kenley.
The Battle of Britain – 17 August 1940: Today say the death of Pilot Officer Billy Fiske of No 601 Squadron, one of the American volunteers to fly with the RAF in the Battle.
Fiske’s Hurricane had been hit by return fire from a Ju 87 over Bognor Regis the day before and had forced-landed back at Tangmere on fire. At the time the airfield was being bombed, but groundcrew carried him clear. He had appeared to be recovering in hospital before his death from burns and shock.
In 1941 a memorial plaque was unveiled in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral, praising Billy Fiske as, “An American Citizen Who Died That England Might Live”.
Luftwaffe activity was limited to scattered raids and reconnaissance.
The Battle of Britain – 16 August 1940: Soon after 1 pm Flight Lieutenant James Nicolson of No 249 Squadron was about to abandon his burning Hurricane over the outskirts of Southampton when a Bf 110 flew in front of him. “Nick” Nicolson remained in the cockpit to shoot down the enemy aircraft.
At first Nicolson was not expected to survive his burns, although as he waited to be taken to hospital after descending by parachute he dictated a telegram to his wife Muriel, in Yorkshire: “Shot down, very slightly hurt. Full particulars later.” He eventually recovered and returned to operations.
More than two months later a recommendation for a DFC for Nicolson was upgraded by Air Vice Marshal Park at No 11 Group to a recommendation for the Victoria Cross. This was endorsed by Air Chief Marshal Dowding and shortly afterwards the award was announced – the only VC ever awarded for service in Fighter Command.
Elsewhere today the sector station at Tangmere was bombed, with 13 people killed. Considerable damage was done at RAF Brize Norton, not part of Fighter Command, and the Chain Home station at Ventnor, Isle of Wight was put out of action.
The Battle of Britain – 15 August 1940: For the Luftwaffe this was “Black Thursday”, as it deployed major forces to attack airfields and Chain Home stations, while seeking to bring up Fighter Command to battle. The Germans suffered casualties on a large scale.
Once again, faulty intelligence was part of the problem. Believing that Fighter Command was not in a position to resist in the area, a significant force was sent to north east England from airfields in Norway and Denmark. The mistake became apparent off the Farne Islands when Flight Lieutenant Ted Graham led the Spitfires of No 72 Squadron into action. Other squadrons joined in.
In the south the Stukas suffered. While trying to escape from RAF fighters, one struck power lines and crashed in Shornecliffe Crescent, Folkestone. Unteroffiziers Weber and Krauss died. A few years ago signs of the damage to property could still be detected.
A sense of great events reached 10 Downing Street. John Colville, Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, noted that the reports of enemy losses “kept on mounting”. Eventually, that evening, Mr Churchill described today, 15 August as, “…… one of the greatest days in history.”
The Battle of Britain – 14 August 1940: As if wearied by its efforts of the previous day, the Luftwaffe flew far fewer sorties. Manston and Middle Wallop airfields were amongst the targets and the main line of the Southern Railway was blocked at Southampton by debris.
Three instructors at No 7 Operational Training Unit at Hawarden took off in Spitfires and shot down a Heinkel He lll near Chester. Because they were not serving with a “designated unit” their sortie, despite its success, did not qualify them for the Battle of Britain Clasp. The strict rules regarding who qualified for the Clasp continue to provoke debate and discussion to this day.
The Battle of Britain – 13 August 1940: The Luftwaffe finally launched Adler Tag (Eagle Day), which was intended to be the beginning of the end for Fighter Command.
A major reason for the failure of this objective was poor German intelligence, something that handicapped them throughout the Battle. As an example, Detling airfield in Kent was attacked today and nearly 70 people were killed – but this was a Coastal Command station and therefore not key to the Battle.
After the day’s fighting, wrecks of enemy aircraft lay across southern England. Associated Press photographed a smashed Dornier of the Holzhammer Geschwader, shot down by RAF fighters, lying across the railway line at Barham between Canterbury and Folkestone. The crew, including Oberleutnant Oswald, Staffel Fuehrer, were taken prisoner. Another Dornier from the same unit came down not far away at Paxton Farm, Stodmarsh, with the crew being captured.
Less fortunate was the crew of a Junkers Ju 88 from the Death’s Head Geschwader. Attacked by Hurricanes from Nos 43 and 601 Squadrons, the aircraft crashed and exploded by Arundel Castle. All on board were killed or died later.
The Battle of Britain – 12 August 1940: With excellent weather over southern Britain forecast for the 13th, today saw attempts to soften up the defences. Dover Chain Home station was damaged and more severe harm was caused at Ventnor. Manston airfield was temporarily put out of action and there was serious damage in Portsmouth.
Amongst the RAF casualties was Sergeant Sydney Stuckey, who had served in France with No 73 Squadron before transferring to No 213 Squadron. Today he did not return from an action over the Channel. He is commemorated on panel 20 of the Runnymede Memorial
The Battle of Britain – 11 August 1940: The day began with attacks on Dover and nearby convoys, but these actions were a feint. The true purpose of German operations today was to deal a major blow to the Portland naval base, a frequent target in 1940.
And so the “Battle of Portland” came to be fought, the Chain Home station at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight giving some of the first warnings of what was to come. Heavy casualties on both sides developed.
Twenty miles off Swanage a fellow pilot saw Flying Officer Dick Demetriadi of No 601 Squadron chasing a hostile aircraft, with fuel leaking from his Hurricane. He did not return and the CO, Squadron Leader the Hon Edward Ward, led an unsuccessful search. Demetriadi’s father later donated land at Ditchling Beacon to the National Trust in his son’s memory.
Flight Lieutenant Robert “Social Type” Jeff of No 87 Squadron (he was always immaculate) was last seen diving to attack an enemy machine off Portland Bill. Jeff (who had already been awarded the DFC and bar and the French Croix de Guerre) was also unaccounted for at the end of the day.
Portland, however, survived.
The Battle of Britain – 10 August 1940: – There was only low key German activity today, with bombs falling near West Malling airfield in Kent. Norwich was once again a target, with bombers attacking the Boulton Paul factory. Other raiders failed to find the Rolls-Royce factory at Crewe. Mines were laid in a number of coastal areas.
The Battle of Britain – 9 August 1940: Weather conditions meant it was a quieter day. The shipyard at Sunderland was bombed, convoys along the east coast came under attack and an attempt was made to destroy balloons protecting Dover.
The Battle of Britain – 8 August 1940: The RAF fought “The Battle of Convoy Peewit” after German radar picked up the convoy and attacks were launched by both E boats and the Luftwaffe. The aerial battle was particularly intense off the Isle of Wight at lunchtime. Another major assault took place off Swanage in the late afternoon and the convoy suffered considerable casualties.
There were Fighter Command losses too, including the No 257 Squadron Hurricane of Sergeant Kenneth Smith, which fell into the sea off St Catherine’s Point. The pilot was killed and is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial. Remarkably, though, two days later “Lord Haw Haw” broadcast Smith’s name and address on German radio, stating that he was a Prisoner of War. This caused Kenneth Smith’s mother to leave his room untouched for many years, convinced that he would one day return home.
Another familiar scene from the Battle created by the fighting off Swanage was the sight of a wrecked Spitfire on its nose in a Dorset field. Sergeant Denis Robinson of No 152 Squadron was unscathed.
The Battle of Britain – 7 August 1940: Action was light and Fighter Command losses were not combat related. In one incident a Spitfire of No 616 Squadron crashed and exploded near Leconfield during night flying practice. The pilot, Pilot Officer Donald Smith, a geography teacher before he joined the RAF, is believed to have baled out unhurt. He was promoted to Flying Officer on 3 September and fatally wounded in action on 27 September.
Another crash involved the first production Westland Whirlwind allocated to No 263 Squadron at Grangemouth. During a training flight it crashed near Stenhousemuir; Pilot Officer I M McDermott descended by parachute. He was slightly injured.
The Battle of Britain – 6 August 1940: A day that highlighted the fact that for a considerable number of Battle of Britain airmen, death came not in action, but in accidents, sometimes unexplained. Shortly after 10 am, 19-year-old Pilot Officer “Billie” Britton of No 17 Squadron took off from Debden on a routine test. Almost immediately his Hurricane crashed and burned out, with the pilot being killed.
The Battle of Britain – 5 August 1940: Action started early, with Spitfires of No 65 Squadron attacking a number of Messerschmitt Bf 109s off Calais, sending one into the sea and damaging two more. In the afternoon there was further fighting over the Channel involving Hurricanes, Spitfires and Bf 109s.
The Battle of Britain – 4 August 1940: A very quiet day, although the onslaught would come soon. The Germans were gearing up for Adler Angriff (Eagle Attack) during which they planned that Fighter Command would be finished off. For today, though, reconnaissance sorties along the south coast and the Bristol Channel were the main activities.
The Battle of Britain – 3 August 1940: There were no Fighter Command combat casualties. Luftwaffe targets included Orkney and the Firth of Forth.
The Battle of Britain – 2 August 1940: One of the more unusual incidents of the Battle of Britain occurred today when Heinkels attacked the SS Highlander. The ship shot one down and may have brought down a second which struck the ship and was still on its deck when the Highlander sailed into Leith.
In London Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Aircraft Production, was made a member of the war cabinet, partly in recognition of his work in ensuring supplies of new and repaired aircraft for Fighter Command.
The Battle of Britain – 1 August 1940: The city of Norwich was attacked in the afternoon. Bombs fell on the Boulton and Paul aircraft factory, setting fire to the offices and the joinery works. There were a number of deaths. Streets in the city were machine gunned. The following day Norwich City Council demanded that the government improve the warning system.
The Battle of Britain – 31 July 1940: Haze was the problem for those on both sides today. A combat developed over Dover in mid afternoon, involving Spitfires of No 74 Squadron, during which Pilot Officer Gunn and Sergeant Eley were shot down and killed.
Fred Eley, a bank clerk who had trained in the RAFVR, had lived with his uncle and aunt in Aston, Cheshire. In recent years his cousin, Brian George, recalled how he learned of Fred’s death. He was in the garden with his father when his mother came out of the house. She was holding a telegram and crying.
The Battle of Britain – 30 July 1940: Cloud and rain reduced German operations, but when the Luftwaffe appeared Fighter Command was ready. In one example, at about 4pm off Harwich a Messerschmitt Bf 110 was shot down into the sea by Flight Lieutenant Harry Hamilton and Sergeant “Sammy” Allard of No 85 Squadron.
Harry Hamilton, a Canadian, was a highly respected Flight Commander. He would be killed in action on 29 August and is buried in Hawkinge (previously Folkestone New) Cemetery.
The Battle of Britain – 29 July 1940: Away from the action, one of the most familiar scenes of the Battle was captured by an official photographer at Hawkinge. He captured Spitfire pilots of No 610 Squadron between sorties. The squadron was based at Biggin Hill, but had moved forward to the Kent coast for the day.
One of those in the picture is Sergeant Norman Ramsay, before the war an engineering apprentice with Vickers Supermarine, who was celebrating his 21st birthday. He survived the war with a DFC, stayed on in the RAF and eventually went to live in New Zealand, where he died in 2002.
Dover was attacked again, though there was no major damage, and two convoys were targeted.
Off Portland the destroyer HMS Delight was struck by a bomb and sank.
The Battle of Britain – 28 July 1940: It has been claimed that two of the most famous pilots of the Battle clashed today. Major Werner Molders belly landed in France, wounded and with his Messerscmitt Bf 109 a write off. One source believes that his attacker was Flight Lieutenant “Sailor” Malan, the South African who was then ‘A’ Flight commander of No 74 Squadron. Another attributes the success to Flight Lieutenant John Webster of No 41 Squadron.
If Malan was involved he might have found the outcome satisfactory. He considered that there was a case for allowing some damaged German aircraft, with wounded men aboard, to escape back to France as a warning about what could be expected on the British side of the Channel.
The Battle of Britain – 27 July 1940: In an attack on Dover Harbour, German bombers sank the destroyer, HMS Codrington. This was one of the events that persuaded the Admiralty that the threat to Dover was so great that ships should be withdrawn to Harwich and Sheerrness.
The Battle of Britain – 26 July 1940: A rare Hurricane victory at night was attributed to the Australian, Pilot Officer John Cock of No 87 Squadron. His Hurricane launched its attack near the Battery Point lighthouse on the Bristol Channel. The victim may have been the Heinkel He lll that came down on a farmland close to Honiton, Devon.
The Battle of Britain – 25 July 1940: A day of increased Luftwaffe attacks and significant casualties on both sides.
In mid-afternoon, Flight Lieutenant “Wonky” Way led ‘B’ Flight of No 54 Squadron into a force of around 60 Stukas over a convoy between Dover and Deal. Messerschmitt Bf 109s joined in. Way shot down one of them, but was then killed. The Spitfire flown by Pilot Officer Douglas Turley-George was also hit but he managed to crash land near Dover.
Another RAF pilot lost today was Squadron Leader Tom Smith, the CO of No 610 (County of Chester) Squadron. He had been a pre-war weekend pilot with this Auxiliary squadron. Some of his comrades thought that he was no longer fit enough for front line service, but Smith persevered and gave his life. After being damaged in combat, his Spitfire crashed on the airfield at Hawkinge. His body was taken back to rural Cheshire and buried in the churchyard at Delamere.
The Battle of Britain – 24 July 1940: A day like many others this month, with yet more fighting over convoys.
Among the RAF casualties was Pilot Officer Johnny Allen, who, earlier in the year, had claimed No 54 Squadron’s first victory of the war. His Spitfire, damaged in combat, stalled and spun in near Cliftonville, Kent. On 27 June Johnny Allen had received the DFC from the King in a ceremony at Hornchurch.
The Battle of Britain – 23 July 1940: The Luftwaffe attacked shipping off the east coast. Fighter Command made history when a Blenheim of the Fighter Interception Unit achieved the unit’s first victory at night using AI radar, shooting down a Dornier Do 17 into the sea off Sussex, though the crew was rescued. Manning the successful Blenheim were Pilot Officer Ashfield (pilot), Pilot Officer Morris (observer) and Sergeant Leyland (radar operator).
The Battle of Britain – 22 July 1940: A quiet day, although there was considerable German minelaying activity. At Wick in the north of Scotland, No 804 Naval Air Squadron, operating Sea Gladiators, flew its first sortie in the Battle of Britain as part of No 13 Group Fighter Command.
The Battle of Britain – 21 July 1940: German casualties included a Dornier Do 17, which fell to the guns of ‘A’ Flight of No 238 Squadron reconnaissance sortie and came down on Nutford Farm, Blandford Forum, Dorset.
Despite the arrival on the scene of a number of people, including the farmer’s daughter Marion Davis, who was carrying a shotgun, the crew, all wounded, managed to set the aircraft on fire before being taken prisoner.
In a combat south of The Needles at about 3.15pm, a Bf 109 and a Hurricane of No 43 Squadron collided. Pilot Officer Ricardo de Mancha (whose father was Italian and mother English) and his Luftwaffe opponent, Leutnant Kroker, were both killed.
The Battle of Britain – 20 July 1940: The early evening saw major clashes over convoys off Dover, with No 32 Squadron losing two Hurricanes. Squadron Leader John “Baron” Worrall made a forced landing near Hawkinge, but Sub Lieutenant Geoffrey Bulmer, shot down by Oberleutnant Priller, baled out into the sea and did not survive.
Bulmer was one of the Fleet Air Arm pilots who flew on attachment in the Battle with Fighter Command. He is remembered on the FAA memorial at Lee-on-Solent. A third pilot from 32, Sergeant Burley Higgins, a pre-war school teacher and member of the RAFVR, landed back at Biggin Hill slightly wounded.
The Battle of Britain – 19 July 1940: Today, tragically, has gone down in RAF history as the day of “the slaughter of the innocents”.
No 141 Squadron, operating the vulnerable Boulton Paul Defiant turret fighter, had arrived at West Malling. From Hawkinge the squadron mounted a patrol over the Channel, during which the Defiants were engaged by Bf 109s. Six were shot down and one returned damaged. Nine aircrew were killed. The appearance of Hurricanes from No 111 Squadron probably prevented an even worse calamity.
The Luftwaffe meanwhile mounted a major attack on Dover.
The Battle of Britain – 18 July 1940: Action today included the sinking of the Goodwin sands lightship. Meanwhile, a Junkers Ju 88 engaged over Portland by RAF fighters managed to hit the No 609 Squadron Spitfire of Flight Lieutenant Frank Howell, causing him to bale out into the sea.
Howell later wrote: “I set out with a lusty crawl for Bournemouth, thinking I might shoot a hell of a line staggering up the beach with beauteous barmaids dashing down the beach with bottles of brandy. ” He seemed quite put out to be rescued by the Navy.
The Battle of Britain – 17 July 1940: Dull and rainy weather impeded German operations, although anti-shipping sorties were flown later and mine-laying took place at various locations. The German Army completed detailed plans for an invasion along the south coast of England.
The Battle of Britain – 16 July 1940: Hitler issued his directive for a landing in England, stating that his aim was to “eliminate the English motherland as a base from which war against Germany can be continued …….”
Bad weather, including fog, hampered German operations. Casualties suffered by the Luftwaffe included a Junkers Ju 88 shot down off The Needles on the Isle of Wight by Flight Lieutenant Willie Rhodes-Moorhouse, commanding B Flight of No 601 Squadron. In 1915 his father had earned a posthumous Victoria Cross, the first VC awarded to an airman.
The Battle of Britain – 15 July 1940: Some of the action took place in Scotland, with Pilot Officer “Black” Morton and Pilot Officer Dudley Stewart-Clark, flying Spitfires of No 603 Squadron, shooting down a Heinkel He 111 which crashed into the sea off Peterhead. Four of the crew of five were eventually rescued and taken prisoner.
The Battle of Britain – 14 July 1940: Although fighting was limited, two controversial events occurred.
Firstly, Fighter Command was ordered by the Air Ministry to give no immunity to enemy float planes displaying red crosses and picking up aircrew of both sides from the Channel.
Meanwhile on the White Cliffs, BBC correspondent Charles Gardner had a grandstand view of combat over a convoy. His broadcast in dramatic terms inspired some listeners and made others think of a commentary on a football or rugby match. Gardner saw an aircraft fall and a parachute descend. He thought, or hoped, that it was a German, but in fact the aircraft was a Hurricane and the man underneath the parachute was Pilot Officer Michael Mudie of No 615 Squadron, who died in Dover hospital the next day.
There is a clip of the broadcast here.
The Battle of Britain – 13 July 1940: In a day of further, but sporadic, attacks on convoys, RAF losses were light but included the first Australian to die in action in the Battle. In mid afternoon, Flight Lieutenant “Jack” Kennedy led Red section of No 238 Squadron in an attack on a Dornier which eventually crashed into the sea off Chesil Beach, Dorset. Kennedy’s Hurricane was apparently hit by return fire and eventually the aircraft crashed at Southdown Farm, Lodmoor, on the outskirts of Weymouth, while the pilot was attempting to make Warmwell airfield.
The Battle of Britain – 12 July 1940: A considerable fight developed over Convoy Booty off the east coast, with a number of Hurricane squadrons engaged and both sides suffering casualties.
Sergeant Leonard Jowitt of No 85 disappeared into the sea. He would be remembered on the squadron for his double act with with Flying Officer Patrick “Weasel” Woods-Scawen in which they depicted a French General presenting a medal. A veteran of the Battle of France, Jowitt received a posthumous Mention in Despatches.
The Battle of Britain – 11 July 1940: With much of the fighting in the early part of the Battle of Britain taking place over British convoys in the English Channel, both Hurricanes and Spitfires went into action early in the morning to protect a convoy off Portland, Dorset.
An RAF pilot to receive a ducking today was Squadron Leader Peter Townsend, CO of No 85 Squadron. Flying from Martlesham Heath in Suffolk, he baled out during combat off Southwold and was picked up by a ship and landed at Harwich.
The Battle of Britain – 10 July 1940: The first fighter pilot to be lost was Sergeant Ian Clenshaw of No 253 Squadron, whose Hurricane crashed during a dawn patrol. At about 1pm Flying Officer “Peter” Higgs became the first to be lost in action after his No 111 Squadron Hurricane collided with a Dornier Do 17 off Folkestone.
The Battle of Britain – 9 July 1940: Air Chief Marshal Dowding believed that 10 July was the start of the Battle, although he accepted that the dates later fixed by the Air Ministry (31 October being the ‘end’) were arbitrary.
Indeed, on 9 July, Fighter Command suffered two pilots killed and three wounded – and that was before the Battle that was to prove so decisive in the history of the world had even, officially, started.
In 2013 the calendar is the same as it was in 1940, which has given the Trust an opportunity to highlight the way the Battle of Britain unfolded, developed and finally ended.
Lord Dowding agreed that the Battle of Britain Clasp would relate to events that took place from 10 July to 31 October. Even he accepted that it was an arbitrary choice of dates, but they are the dates history has given us.
From 9 July onwards, this site will provide regular updates detailing what happened on important days during what was arguably the most important battle fought by this country in the whole of the last century.
The material will be supplied by Trustee and Battle of Britain historian Geoff Simpson.