Here Comes the Luftwaffe

Posted on Wednesday 10th July 2013


This article has been extracted from The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster, reproduced by permission of Pen and Sword Books Ltd.

On 2 July the German Air Force Supreme Command issued instructions for the campaign against Britain. By the following day the effect was apparent. Small groups of bombers, covered from above by roving fighter patrols, were out hunting for ships.
On 3 July a Dormer suddenly dived out of cloud and attacked No 13 Elementary Flight Training School at Maidenhead. One man was killed and half a dozen injured, while six Tiger Moths were destroyed and twenty-five damaged. On the 4th twenty Ju 88s bombed Portland and two enemy aircraft penetrated as far as Bristol, one of these being shot down by 92 Squadron from Pembrey.
One pilot of 601 Squadron shot down a Dornier 17 on 7 July and reported that when about 100 yards from the bomber some twenty metal boxes, about 9 inches cube and attached to wires, were thrown out behind. The fighter was hit by the boxes, but remained serviceable.
The Luftwaffe's first few incursions over the Channel made it clear that the British radar network was not able to pick up the German aircraft soon enough for the defending fighters to intercept. From 4 July a flight from each RAF sector station was dispatched to operate from its forward landing grounds.
On 8 July Flying Officer Desmond McMullen leading a section of three No 54 Squadron Spitfires ran into trouble tackling a formation of Me 110s which crossed the coast at Dungeness. The Spitfires were about to intercept when they were attacked from above by Me 109s. Flying Officer Coleman, was wounded and put out of action for several weeks. The Spitfire pilots were caught napping because they were still employing formations and tactics taught before the war and because the lessons learnt at Dunkirk had not been fully digested.
Before the war RAF squadrons flew compact formations based on tight elements of three planes and the tactics employed were standardised in what were known as ‘Fighting Area Attacks’. There were five different forms of attack and a flight commander ordered them in combat as he saw fit.
In terms of flying discipline and spectacle they were excellent. They were worthless tactically and when related to effective shooting, there was never enough time to get the sights on the target since the business of keeping station was the prime requirement.
Following the command ‘FAA Attack No 1 – Go!’, for example, the fighters would swing into line astern behind the leader, follow him in an orderly line up to the bomber, fire a quick shot when their turn came in the queue and then swing gracefully away after the leader again, presenting their bellies to the enemy gunner. They were all based on the belief that modern aircraft, especially fighters, were too fast for the dogfight tactics of World War I. Fighting Area attacks were disastrous and it was not long before the British were imitating the Germans.
The perfect fighter formation was devised by the Germans. It was based on an element of two planes which they called the rotte. About 200 yards separated a pair of fighters and the main responsibility of the wingman, or number two, was to cover the leader from quarter or stem attack. The leader looked after navigation and covered his wingman.
The schwarme consisted of two pairs, and it was this formation the RAF adopted. The British called it a finger-four because each plane flew in a position corresponding to the finger-tips seen in plan view. In this formation the leader is represented by the longest finger, the number two by the index. Numbers three and four take up the positions of the third and little finger-tips. Number two always flies on the sunside of the leader scanning down-sun. And he positions himself slightly below so that the other pilots can see him well below the glare. That leaves two pairs of eyes stepped-up down-sun of the leader scanning the danger area.

image
Ju 87s being loaded up with one 500kg and two 100kg bombs for raids against shipping in the English Channel and on English coastal towns and harbours.

While these lessons were still being learned Fighter Command found itself on 10 July fighting the opening phase of the Battle of Britain, Day Convoy raids off North Foreland and Dover.
Weather showery in south-east England and Channel. Continuous rain elsewhere.
The first plots to appear on the operations room table indicated that the Luftwaffe were following routine procedure. Skirting the west of England, weather reconnaissance aircraft steered for the Atlantic. Radar tracked them for part of their course but they gave the RAF few opportunities to intercept. After sunrise a Spitfire from the Coltishall Sector, Suffolk, was directed to a suspect plot. Despite the morning haze it engaged a
A new procedure adopted by No 11 Group nominated a whole squadron instead of a flight for dawn deployment to forward airfields. The squadron would return home in the evening.
Shortly before 13.30 radar blips showed a substantial buildup behind Calais. As a west-bound convoy streamed past Dover guarded by six Hurricanes from Biggin Hill about twenty Do 17s escorted by thirty Me 110s and twenty Me 109s arrived. Within half an hour the Hurricanes were joined by elements of four squadrons from neighbouring sectors, including Hurricanes of No 56, based at North Weald, but operating from Manston.
Near Newhaven a train was attacked, the driver being killed and the guard injured.
The fight cost the Luftwaffe four fighters. Three Hurricanes were lost, one of them, belonging to No 111 Squadron, losing a wing after hitting a bomber. Only one small ship was sunk. Meanwhile seventy German bombers attacked Swansea and Falmouth killing thirty people and damaging shipping, a power station and railways. The Royal Ordnance Factory at Pembrey was hit and seventeen bombs fell on Martlesham.
The most significant event of a day in which Fighter Command flew 609 sorties was the promptness with which Me 110s went into a defensive circle when they were attacked by Hurricanes. It was a clear indication that this long-range fighter needed as much protection as a bomber.
An anti-aircraft battery on the south coast claimed a record by shooting down a 109 in thirty second s with only eight shells. Thirteen German aircraft failed to return. Six British fighters were destroyed.

gaining momentum
There was now so much activity around Dover that it was beginning to get the nickname 'Hellfire Corner'. In the afternoon a convoy appeared off Dover guarded by two sections of No 32 Squadron Hurricanes taking turns at escort duty. At 17.40 it was attacked by Stukas escorted by Me 109s. Two Hurricanes were lost and two damaged. An hour later forty-eight Messerschmitts clashed with about forty Hurricanes and Spitfires. There was again a lively engagement.
In operations round Britain the RAF lost three and the Germans nine. The Luftwaffe losses included five Me 109S, a Ju 88, a Do 17 and a four-engined FW200, the latter north of Ireland.
On 19 July the first interception took place at 17.30 when Red section led by David Pemberton, with Peter Matthews and P/O Dennis Browne as his Nos 2 and 3 sighted a He 111 twenty miles north of Brighton at around 10,000 ft. The Hurricanes were also seen by the crew of the Heinkel, which immediately tried to escape in cloud. Pemberton ordered Browne to keep to his left and the latter followed the German aircraft through the clouds until they came to a gap when it turned steeply and flew directly towards him. It then dived before levelling out at 3,000 ft, slowing to around 250 mph.
However, Browne was able to follow and swung in from behind to fire two bursts each of around five seconds from 250 yards, receiving return fire from the upper gun position. He felt his Hurricane being hit but as it still flew normally he continued to follow the Heinkel as it jinked from side to side, its pilot using cloud cover whenever he could. Browne fired the rest of his ammunition in short bursts until he had none left but by this time there was smoke coming from the port engine.
He continued to follow the bomber so that its position could be traced via his Pipsqueak (an early form of IFF system) and he continually called base asking them to vector Red 1 and 2 onto him. Having pursued it for around ten minutes it finally escaped in the clouds but by now Browne had other concerns. The return fire had caused a serious glycol leak and with smoke beginning to billow from the Merlin engine of his Hurricane it was imperative for him to get down quickly. Having switched off his engine he glided down and saw a large estate on his right-hand side. He proceeded to make a wheels-up crash-landing into a large paddock and with flames already beginning to come through the floor of the cockpit, he wasted no time in getting out. Shortly afterwards the petrol tanks blew up and his aircraft was burnt out.
Although it has been recorded that the He 111 was later destroyed by No 43 Squadron, it appears more likely that it was shot down five miles off Shoreham by Hurricanes of No 145 Squadron flown by P/O Michael Newling, F/O Roy Dutton and F/O A Ostowicz. (This was an aircraft of 7/KG 55 and was coded G1 AR. The crew of five, which included Oblt Rudi Westhaus as observer, did not survive.) At this stage of the air campaign against Britain the Luftwaffe was concentrating on attacking shipping in the English Channel with a view to closing it entirely and at the same time achieving air superiority over it. As German aircraft could be over the Channel quickly, Fighter Command was left with no alternative but to fly standing patrols over convoys.
On 22 July No 1 Squadron flew to Hawkinge, which was being used as a forward base, but in the event they were not needed and by evening they were back at Northolt. The following day saw the squadron move to Tangmere on a temporary basis with No 43 Squadron heading in the opposite direction. On 24 July ‘A’ Flight patrolled the Isle of Wight, however the weather deteriorated throughout the day with coastal fog and rain, and another patrol by Blue section of ‘B’ Flight was recalled after being airborne only ten minutes.
On 25 July Portland was bombed in the morning and the squadron carried out several patrols as cover to convoys but did not encounter any opposition. At 15.08
There were between twelve and sixteen in all, in sections of three or four, but soon a small group was seen to break away and begin climbing rapidly in wide spirals. They were finally confirmed as Bf 109Es and when they were about 1,000 ft below on the opposite side of the circle the Hurricanes went into the attack.
The respective formations were soon broken up and individual combats took place. The 109s were soon joined by others which descended from above and Harry Hillcoat became involved with one of the latter. He fired several bursts of varying length with deflection and from astern, but was unable to inflict any substantial damage on his opponent. The German pilot was careful to maintain his speed and Hillcoat had a frustrating time as he could not get close enough. Each time it appeared as though he was gaining on the 109 it zoom-climbed to safety about 1,000 ft above him. Having expended all of his ammunition he finally left it about twenty-five miles out to sea and returned to base.
Sammy Salmon went for the 109s in the first group, which by now had adopted a line astern formation. He fired at the two leading machines by cutting across the circle but as the range was around 400 yards his bullets drifted wide of their intended target. He had better luck when a third 109 pulled sharply across in front of him at around 2-300 yards range, firing a full deflection burst as it continued its steep turn. By quickly reversing bank he managed to get in a further burst from the starboard beam and the nose of the 109 dropped into a vertical dive. Salmon’s first impression was that it was out of control but he followed it down and fired again from dead astern, although by now the range had increased considerably. He began his pull-out at 2,000 ft (helped by use of the tailplane actuating gear) but blacked out for an appreciable time, finally coming to in a gentle climb. As the 109 was still diving at high speed when he last saw it he considered it impossible for it to have pulled out before hitting the sea.
In the meantime George Goodman had covered the attacks by Hillcoat and Salmon by maintaining his height but was finally brought into the action when he saw four 109s above emerging from cloud. As they came down in a descending spiral Goodman turned in behind the last one and was gaining on it when, at 3,000 ft, he suddenly saw a 109 close by on his right-hand side making a beam attack.
In order to avoid a collision the Messerschmitt broke sharply upwards and turned to starboard, but as it did so it stalled and flicked into a spin. This aircraft continued spinning until it hit the water with a huge splash. The other 109s immediately started to climb for the cloud cover at 10,000 ft and although Goodman tried to follow, they were able to draw away and head back towards France. After landing Goodman discovered that his Hurricane had been hit by two machine-gun bullets on the starboard beam behind the wireless installation. In his combat report he expressed the opinion that the German pilots he had fought were not of the calibre of those he had encountered over France. It appeared that there was very little co-operation between them as they frequently got in each other’s way.
Over the next few days further patrols were carried out around the Isle of Wight but although enemy aircraft were encountered by other squadrons elsewhere in the Channel, none were seen by No 1 Squadron. It was not until 31 July that the squadron fought its next action when Red section led by Peter Matthews took off at 10.17 hrs to reconnoitre the usual area. He was assisted in this task by P/O John Davey and Sgt Henry Merchant. On being ordered to investigate a ship about five miles south of Ventnor they descended from 16,000 ft to 5,000 ft so that it could be picked up in the haze that hung over the Channel. They were then informed of possible enemy aircraft two miles south of St Catherine’s Point and immediately turned in this direction. An aircraft was seen in the distance but it saw the Hurricanes at the same time and dived to sea level heading in a southerly direction. Matthews gave the order for a No 1 attack and Davey and Merchant swung into line astern formation as they closed on the aircraft, which by now had been identified as a Do 17.
Matthews attacked four times, alternating with Red 2 and 3, opening fire at the recommended range of 3-400 yards. He soon realised that this was too far away and subsequently pressed home his attacks to 200 yards or less. The Do 17 did not return his fire but appeared to jettison four lengths of wire preceded by puffs of smoke from the port side of the fuselage. On his last attack Matthews got closer than before and as a result had to break away sharply, losing sight of the Dornier in the mist. The action was eventually broken off some seventy miles out over the Channel by which time the port engine was trailing smoke and running at low revs.
As all three Hurricanes had used up most of their ammunition (amounting to 5,600 rounds) and could only claim the Do 17 as damaged, it showed the need to get in closer. It was also apparent that the 0.303 in Browning machine guns as fitted to the Hurricane did not deliver sufficient weight of fire to bring down aircraft fitted with armour plating and self-sealing fuel tanks with any degree of certainty.
The following day John Davey and Henry Merchant were in action again as Red section (on this occasion led by Hilly Brown) took off in the early morning to intercept an enemy raid. When flying ten miles south of Beachy Head at about 800 ft Brown saw a Do 17 and chased after it, however he was only able to fire a three second burst from around 400 yards before the Dornier disappeared into clouds. As it did not appear to be unduly troubled, no claim was submitted. In the afternoon more patrols took place before the squadron flew back to Northolt with No 43 Squadron returning to Tangmere, the ground staff being transferred by air.
Having taken up residence at Northolt once again, the squadron was back in a situation where it was required to fly to forward bases to be on hand should it be needed. On 2 August the day was spent at Hawkinge but no patrols were flown and a return was made to Northolt in the evening. On the 3rd the only activity of note involved Harry Hillcoat and Pat Hancock carrying out air-to-ground firing at Dengie Flats on the Essex coast (now a conservation area) and the following day there was another trip to Hawkinge. This proved to be abortive once again and the squadron was back at Northolt by lunchtime. In the afternoon six Blenheims of No 15 Squadron flew to Northolt for fighter affiliation. These were to represent enemy bombers so that sections of No 1 Squadron’s Hurricanes could carry out practice attacks but an otherwise successful day was marred by a tragic accident. In taking violent evasive action, one of the Blenheims (R3771 flown by P/O M Hohnen) dived into the ground killing the four-man crew. In the evening the squadron flew to Tangmere but returned at dusk. Over the next few days it flew to Manston, North Weald and Tangmere but was either not called upon, or if it was, there was no contact with the Luftwaffe.

image
Map: the Battle of Britain, 1940.

The preliminary phase of the Battle of Britain in which attacks had been concentrated on Channel shipping was about to be replaced by much heavier attacks, which had the ultimate objective of destroying RAF Fighter Command.
The first hint of a change of emphasis came on 11 August with a heavy raid on Portland, together with feints by formations of fighters in the Dover area.
No 1 Squadron was ordered off at 09.40 hrs with orders to patrol the coast south of Tangmere. Hilly Brown was ‘Acorn leader’ but when they were well out over the Channel they were attacked briefly from above by Bf 109Es, which had the effect of breaking up the squadron formation. When he was roughly half way between St Catherine’s Point and Cherbourg, Hilly Brown saw a Bf 110 slightly below him at 18,000 ft. He followed it in a slight dive and having set 8 lbs/sq in boost, which gave an IAS (indicated airspeed) of around 300 mph, he was able to gradually overtake it. On opening fire various bits were seen to detach from the Messerschmitt as his bullets struck and the port engine was soon obscured by smoke. Strangely the 110 did not evade and merely maintained its shallow dive, nor was there any return fire. As he fired again Brown’s windscreen was covered in oil and he had to break away sharply to avoid collision as the 110 suddenly slowed. P/O Harold Mann who was Brown’s No 2 and had been following his leader, later confirmed that the 110 dropped into a vertical dive with smoke and flames pouring out. He also saw the port engine explode and become a mass of flames.
During this combat Brown had used the new De Wilde ammunition and it was immediately apparent that his aim was good by the small flashes that his bullets gave off as they hit. This new incendiary ammunition had been developed by a Belgian chemist named De Wilde but had been subsequently re-designed in the UK by a Major Dixon. De Wilde was paid the large sum (for the time) of £30,000, even though his original design had a flaw in that when it was used in hot or worn barrels, it was prone to premature explosions. The reason for this generosity was that the Belgian had also been in negotiation to sell his ammunition to the Germans and Italians and it was hoped that they would accept the basic design without realising its weakness. It is not known if this subterfuge was successful.
While Brown had been accounting for this Bf 110, George Goodman (Blue 3) and P/O Charles Chetham (Yellow 3) were chasing after another. Two Hurricanes were ahead of them but these broke away, apparently without firing. The Bf 110 went into a steep dive to sea level and Goodman and Chetham indulged in a race to see who could get into a firing position first. During the dive their airspeed went up to around 420 mph and the descent rate was around 5,000 ft per minute. Chetham eventually won ‘by a short head’ and fired a preliminary burst at about 300 yards when the two aircraft were still about six to eight miles from the French coast.
Although the 110 returned fire, all of Chetham’s bullets were hitting around the centre section area, including the rear cockpit, and as the return fire soon ceased, it appeared as though the gunner had been killed or wounded. Not long after, what appeared to be a drogue was thrown out suspended on a long wire and this passed
As Chetham broke away, Goodman moved in and closed to about fifty yards. There was still no return fire so he was able to put in a long burst of five seconds and the 110 caught fire at the starboard wing root. Soon afterwards it hit the water and disintegrated. As the twin tail was protruding from the water, Goodman flew low over it to take a photograph with his cine gun as proof that the aircraft had been destroyed. He returned at zero feet so as not to be seen by any other enemy aircraft that might be in the area and was joined by Chetham at mid-Channel. On the way back they saw another twin-engined aircraft hit the water with a Hurricane circling overhead, however as they were low on fuel they were not able to investigate and landed at 11.55 hrs. Although No 1 Squadron had been able to account for two Bf 110s, at some point during the fight the Hurricane flown by P/O John Davey was hit. He was able to make it back to the Isle of Wight but in putting his aircraft down on Sandown golf course, he crashed during his attempted force-landing and was killed, his Hurricane being burnt out.

adler tag
The Luftwaffe onslaught known as Adler Tag (Eagle Day) had begun on 13 August with heavy raids on Eastchurch aerodrome, Portland and Southampton and at the end of the day the Germans had flown a total of 1,485 sorties, the greatest number thus far, losing forty-five aircraft (thirteen RAF fighters were shot down and four pilots were killed). The 14th saw much reduced activity with only ninety-one bomber and 398 fighter sorties but on the following day heavy raids were carried out with aerodromes being the primary targets.
In the afternoon of 15 August Red, Yellow and Green sections of No 1 Squadron took off from Northolt for North Weald where they were soon ordered to intercept a raid (No 22) that was heading towards Clacton-on-Sea. This proved to be sixteen Bf 110 fighter-bombers of the elite Erprobungsgruppe 210 with an escort of Bf 109Es of the same unit, all bound for the aerodrome at Martlesham Heath. Red section led by Hilly Brown with P/O Dennis Browne and Sgt Martin Shanahan as his Nos 2 and 3 were badly bounced by the 109s and all three were shot down. Brown’s Hurricane (P3047) was hit in the gravity tank and set on fire. Although he was able to bale out, he suffered burns to his face but was picked up by the trawler Kenya and taken to Harwich. Browne and Shanahan were not so fortunate and both were killed. Martin Shanahan was twenty-five years old and had been with the squadron for just ten days.
For those that remained there was the opportunity to hit back. P/O Harold Mann who was flying as Yellow 2 was attacked by two Bf 110s from above and behind. In taking evasive action he lost contact with the rest of the squadron but at the same time was pleased to see the cannon fire drifting well wide. He then chased after six of the fighter-bombers but they were diving for home so fast that they slowly drew away. As he turned round he was fired upon by a Bf 109E but by turning steeply to the left he was able to get behind it as it climbed for height. He opened fire as it presented him with a plan view and it then fell into a vertical dive.
On passing 5,000 ft he was attacked by another 109 which holed his petrol tank. Luckily it did not catch fire but after firing at three more 109s he had to switch to his reserve tank as the main tank was empty. He landed at Martlesham without further incident.
P/O Tim Elkington (Green 2) was flying due east from Martlesham at 10,000 ft when a 109 approached him from head on and to the left, 1,000 ft below. It began to climb and turned to the left in an attempt to get on his tail but by turning tightly to the left himself he came up behind it. His first bursts did not appear to hit the 109 but on firing again it straightened out and went into a steep climb. He then fired a further two-second burst from astern and the engine of the 109 suddenly belched fumes before it turned over and ‘dropped like a plummet into the sea’.
Peter Matthews also fired his guns at what he identified as a Ju 88 although it is possible that this was in fact a Bf 110 as the action took place at the same time and place as the attack by ErprGr/210. Having seen a mêlée of aircraft at about 13,000 ft over Martlesham, he attacked three aircraft in quick succession before spotting a ‘Ju 88’ on its own. This he chased out to sea firing all of his ammunition from astern, which appeared to have hit the German aircraft in the starboard motor as black smoke began to pour out and it suddenly yawed to the right. It then continued in a steep dive but as he had run out of ammunition and was by now well away from the coast he broke off the engagement and returned (during the raid by ErprGr/210 one of its Bf 110s crewed by Leutnant Erich Beudel and Obgfr Otto Jordan returned to Calais-Marck having suffered combat damage, although unfortunately the damage state was not recorded).
image
Here comes the Luftwaffe.

image


image


image


image


The Battle of Britain - the Real Story. BBC documentary.

image
Hawker Hurricane runs-up its engine prior to take-off.

'The Luftwaffe's first few incursions over the Channel made it clear that the British radar network was not able to pick up the German aircraft soon enough for the defending fighters to intercept.'

image
Looking to the skies.



image
Key to the Battle Map, left.

Further Reading


The Narrow Margin
(Paperback - 384 pages)
ISBN: 9781848843141

by Derek Wood
Only £16.99

The Battle of Britain saved the country from invasion. If the RAF had been defeated all the efforts of the British Army and the Royal Navy would hardly have averted defeat in the face of complete German air superiority. With all Europe subjugated, Germany and Japan would later have met on the borders of India.

This remarkable book traces the varied fortunes of the Royal Air Force in the 1930s, and shows how it readied itself for the mighty German onslaught in the summer of 1940 and…
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...


Further Reading


Battle of Britain
(Commemorative magazine)
ISBN: 9781848844544

by Roni Wilkinson
Only £6.99

The Battle of Britain took place between July and October 1940.

The Germans needed to control the English Channel to launch their invasion of Britain. To control the Channel the Germans needed control of the air. This meant that they had to take on Fighter Command, led by Sir Hugh Dowding, of the Royal Air Force.

At the start of the war, Germany had 4,000 aircraft compared to Britain's front-line strength of 1,660. The main fighter planes of the RAF were the Spitfire…
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...

Of further interest...