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.