Improvements in British defences.
The bombing of London on 24 August 1940 had led to the censuring by Goering of the crews involved. A mere twenty-four hours later, the first of eighty-one RAF bombers took off for Berlin, having been briefed to bomb several key industrial sites within the city. This was an optimistic prospect at best, in view of the lack of technical navigational and bombing equipment currently mounted in the Hampdens, Whitleys and Wellingtons. A minimal amount of physical damage was visited upon the Reichskapital and its citizens, but the psychological impact was out of all proportion to this. Continued raids over the next week or so inflicted no more damage than the first, but the emotive ‘die’ had been cast in the Fuehrer’s mind. At a speech given at the Sportpalast on 4 September he ranted: ‘If the British declare that they will attack our cities on a grand scale, we will eradicate theirs!’ By ‘theirs’, Hitler had in mind the British equivalent to Berlin – namely, London. Sure enough, clearance was immediately issued for unrestricted attacks on the city, and the course of the Battle of Britain was set to the growing advantage of the Luftwaffe’s aerial adversary.
The codename for the initial attack on London was Loge, the ancient God who had forged the sword for Siegfried, and had been chosen by Goering. The eerie absent of enemy ‘plots’ on the board during the morning and well into the afternoon of 7 September must have grated on the defenders’ nerves. Why was there such an extended delay in mounting attacks in the face of what was a perfect autumn day) Across the Channel the answer was being assembled in the form of over 600 bombers and a similar number of escorts. As Goering stood on the cliffs at Cap Gris Nez and made a bombastic speech into a recording-van microphone, the first elements of the aerial armada coursed out overhead. The first radar ‘plots’ caused confusion as to the likely intentions of the attackers. The natural assumption that the single massive force would fan out at some stage of its approach and strike at Keith Park’s airfields was only revised when no such split occurred as the force advanced inexorably up the Thames. Consequently, the eleven squadrons sent up to intercept it, from airfields as far away as Tangmere and Middle Wallop, some of whom established contact as far east as the Isle of Sheppey, could do little to prevent the bombers from lining up to bomb the docks on the U-bend of the Thames. A total of twenty-nine Luftwaffe aircraft were MIA in the course of Operation Loge, of which only seven were bombers, and a further twenty-one aircraft were damaged compared to twenty-two RAF fighters shot down – an arithmetic equation still favouring the Luftwaffe.
With the pressure off their airfields, and Goering’s insistence on London being the primary focus of attack around the clock, Dowding and AVM Keith Park, in particular, could maintain a more relaxed state of overall ‘readiness’. Park also felt confident enough to initiate the practice of despatching squadrons in pairs, although he resisted the concept of larger scale formations, exemplified by the notorious Duxford ‘Big Wing’ of AVM Leigh-Mallory’s creation. Between 8 and 14 September, the Luftwaffe daylight operations displayed an uncertain momentum as well as a varied scale of activity. Variable weather conditions restricted operations in this situation on the 10th/11th; but the few operations flown on the 12th, for example, cannot be explained away in this manner.
In the afternoon of the 9th, twin raids were mounted, the Ju 88s of KG 30 heading for London in the company of He III and Do 17 units, while a separate strike was being launched further west by KG 1. A total of over 200 bombers were covered by Bf 109s and Bf 110s. Rendezvous was over Lille, and target approach was made over Sussex strangely rather than Kent. Unteroffizier Peter Stahl recalled having to fly a worn-out bomber in place of his regular aircraft. During the target approach, AA burst occurred uncomfortably close – apparently close enough to disperse the formation after it had bombed, with individual pilots seeking to join up within the other Geschwader formations!
According to Stahl, it was at this point of the sortie that Hurricanes of No. 253 and 303 (Polish) Squadrons truck to inflict sizeable losses on the bombers, and four of KG 30’s number went down. (Contemporary record reveal that the unit’s [asses largely occurred on the route up to London.) Oberleutnant Heil force-landed his Stab/KG 30 aircraft near Horsham, and his crew were captured; and a second forced landing in the region killed the pilot, Unteroffizier Deibler. A second Stab Ju 88 from III/KG 30 ‘ditched’ off the coast, killing Major Hackbarth (Gruppenkommandeur) and his crew; and similarly, the crew of Unteroffizier Hettinger from 8/KG 30 were killed when they were shot down.
RAF losses on the 11th exceeded that of the Luftwaffe, although the figure included aircraft lost while attacking the Channel ports and their concentrations of landing barges. A slackening of activity over the next two days did not affect the Ju 88s of LG1 and KG54, with the former unit in particular making ‘nuisance’ raids off the south coast on both days. On the 13th an aircraft belonging to Stab III/LG 1 returned so heavily damaged from an encounter with fighters that it was ‘written off’.