The Birmingham Small Arms company of Birmingham, England,
was founded in 1861 to manufacture rifle stocks. In 1863 the company built
their factory at Small Heath and in 1866 they obtained a military contract to
convert 100,000 muzzle-loading Enfield rifles into Snider breech-loaders. Two
years later came orders for the complete manufacture of various military
pistols and carbines. In 1873 a factory at Adderley Park was acquired for the
manufacture of small arms ammunition, trading as the Birmingham Small Arms
& Metal Company. This facility was disposed of in 1891 to the Nobel
During the First World War, BSA factories produced 145,397
Lewis machine guns and 1,601,608 Lee-Enfield rifles. The company also began to
take an interest in weapon development and in 1919 produced a -40 calibre
military automatic pistol which failed to attract military attention. They then
obtained a licence to develop the Thompson submachine gun patents in Europe and
produced a number of prototype automatic rifles based on the Thompson designs,
again without much commercial success. Another venture was the Adams-Willmott
machine gun. Before the out- break of the Second World War the company had set
up for production of the BESA tank machine gun and during the war developed the
Besal or Faulkner machine gun. Anti-tank rifles, aircraft cannon and submachine
guns, were also produced.
In postwar years the BSA submachine gun was developed, as
was a 7mm automatic rifle, but neither gained military acceptance. Some of the
7.62mm FN rifles adopted after Britain standardised on the 7-62mm NATO
cartridge were made by BSA.
After the First World War the company had entered the
sporting gun field with an inexpensive shotgun, and they later followed it up with
sporting and target rifles. Air rifles had formed part of the firm’s output
since the early 1900s, and they were the developers of an unusual air rifle
modelled on the service Lee-Enfield rifle and intended for inexpensive training
of cadets and militia units.
BSA started to pro- duce submachine-guns in 1924 when they
flirted briefly with the Thompson design from the US. This came to nothing, as
did another licensing venture in 1939 for a Hungarian weapon designed by
Kiraly. BSA put some effort into this latter model, including an element of
redesign work, and it obviously disappointed them when the War Office showed no
interest. Throughout the Second World War the company made weapons to government
order, including Sten guns, but did no original work.
BSA submachine gun
The BSA submachine gun, submitted for trials in 1946-1949,
was a compact and ingenious design in which the cocking action was done by rotating
the forward handguard, thrusting it forward and back, and rotating it again to
lock into place. This system meant that the firer retained his grip of the
weapon throughout the cocking action, which was advantageous in the event of a
feed stoppage. Of 9mm calibre, the gun had a magazine which, with its housing,
could be folded forward alongside the barrel giving compact dimensions for
packing and, again, allowing rapid action in the event of a malfunction. But in
competitive trials, it suffered from having had less development time than its
competitors and was rejected for military service. The same fate befell the
P-28 automatic rifle, a weapon of great promise. It was an exceptionally clean
design, using a laterally-locking bolt, but the abandonment of the projected
British .280 cartridge in favour of the 7.62mm NATO round put an end to its
British submachine-gun. The Welgun was one of many British
attempts during the Second World War to produce a very small and light submachine-gun.
It was called for by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) which were at that
time in Welwyn, hence the first part of the name. It was designed and built by
BSA in Birmingham and the first military trials were in early 1943. From then
on there seem to have been several trials, in all of which the Welgun fared
quite well, but it was never adopted, not even for the SOE.
The design used some Sten components. The barrel, magazine
and return spring were Sten, but the design was most compact. The spring was
around the barrel and two long plates ran forward from the bolt to a ring in
front of the spring. There was a stop just in front of the breech and rear
movement of the bolt compressed the spring against this stop. The plates had
serrations on them, and these were gripped to cock the weapon. The Sten
magazine fed vertically upwards and the barrel was enclosed in a tubular
jacket. The trigger mechanism was very simple, almost crude, and the safety was
an external rocking bar which held the bolt either open or closed. A simple
folding steel stock was fitted.
The bolt had a floating firing pin actuated by a plunger and
rocking bar. When the bolt closed on the breech the plunger was pushed in and
operated the rocking bar. This pushed the firing pin forward to fire the
cartridge. With a little development the Welgun could probably have been every
bit as good as the Sten, and perhaps better, but by then the Sten was already
On the Isonzo front, both sides suffered from the winter
conditions, including ice storms and avalanches. Shelling and snipers forced
both sides to work at night. The mountain troops on both sides grew more
proficient at raiding and specialist weapons like flamethrowers made their
first appearance. Boroevic´’s outnumbered Fifth Army still lacked enough shells
but constantly improving defences and superb intelligence gave him a priceless
For the Fifth Battle of the Isonzo the Italian artillery
continued to rely on area fire and not a detailed fire-plan, even after new
regulations were disseminated: a 48-hour bombardment by over a thousand guns
was simply more indiscriminate shellfire. Late snowfall and mist only
compounded the coordination problems and the Italians were driven back with
heavy losses. Alpini units, supported by their own mountain artillery, had more
success. Both sides began to use mining in the high alpine passes to edge
towards and under enemy positions, blasting holes in San Martino in 1916 and
eventually honeycombing the Little Lagazuoi in the Dolomite Range.
Conrad von Hötzendorf was eager to punish the Italians for
breaking the Triple Alliance. He could not match the strong Italian forces on
the Isonzo, so he decided to shift the battle westwards to the South Tyrol and
ordered Colonel-General Archduke Eugen to prepare a suitable plan for April
1916. The Fifth Army yielded some of its reserves and fresh artillery soon
followed. The Italian First Army was poorly deployed and Cadorna, easily
distracted by a minor thrust on the Carso, became aware of Austrian
preparations too late to affect the outcome. Eugen’s infantry and artillery,
supplemented by the units stripped from the Russian front, were well
co-ordinated and made significant gains before they outpaced their already
meagre supply system and Cadorna finally managed to stabilise the front line.
The Archduke was pleased with his men and, although most of his reserves were
withdrawn after Brusilov’s attack, he gave a press interview to publicise the
fact that the defenders had lost more men than the attackers. Eugen believed
that better defences and closer infantry–artillery co-ordination gave the
Austrians a huge advantage over the Italians:
[On the Isonzo] it was demonstrated what our [Trentino]
offensive has now confirmed: that our men, but not the Italians, could stand
the horrors of drumfire … Specifically, the close cooperation between our
infantry and our artillery, and the batteries among one another has been the
main source of our success. Our artillery-based defence has cost the enemy
veritable hecatombs of dead … The Italian prisoners unanimously declared the effect
of our artillery fire was frightful, simply unendurable. Under cover of this
artillery fire, it was possible for our infantry, with […] slight losses, to
tear from the enemy, position after position … The Italian artillery answered
our fire only weakly – not, as captured magazines afterward showed, from lack
of ammunition, but because they were holding back for our infantry attacks …
The Sixth Battle of the Isonzo, in August, finally saw the
Italians use a genuine artillery fire-plan. Colonel Pietro Badoglio, later a
key figure in Mussolini’s regime, was assigned to plan the offensive and he and
his staff selected a range of key targets including command bunkers, known
supply dumps and artillery batteries. To show his confidence in the plan, Badoglio
opted to personally lead a brigade attacking Mount Sabotino. For once the
Austrians misread the situation and the size of the offensive surprised them.
With only four heavy batteries and fewer than 600 light and medium guns, the
Fifth Army was heavy outgunned and ran ruinously low on ammunition. The
artillery bombardment cut all communications to the positions on Mount Sabotino
and the Italians were able to overwhelm the defenders and trap many of them in
their formidable kavernen. This time, when the inevitable counter-attack came,
the Italians had enough time to establish their own defensive system. A similar
success was experienced on San Michele but here the Austrians ran out of
ammunition and their counter-attacks were driven back with heavy casualties.
Just as a breakthrough glimmered, Cadorna lost his nerve and the Italian
artillery reverted to re-arranging the geography while the Austrians
strengthened the new defensive line on the Plava and received urgently needed
shells. Further Italian attacks were predictably beaten back after savage
fighting. Russian prisoners of war were brought into the Fifth Army sector to
help construct an expanded defensive system, and as the Italians dithered,
fresh artillery arrived to further strengthen the position.
Once again Cadorna returned to planning how to batter his
way through to the Carso and the Duke of Aosta’s Third Army was instructed to
prepare the latest assault. The fire-plan on this occasion required the
artillery to soften up the front line, and to use heavy guns against the rear
areas before intensifying the so-called ‘annihilation barrage’ just before
dawn. The 9-hour bombardment was impressive but the Austrians held firm and
their surviving gunners broke up the attacks. The bombardment of a key water
pumping station that supplied the front line threatened to force the defenders
to retreat but some Austrian naval flying boats destroyed the Italian
long-range battery by bombing.
The new Italian tactics worked when the Austrian artillery
was weak or low on ammunition. The Italians, not understanding how important
artillery was to the Austrian system, did not emphasise counter-battery fire.
That, combined with the strong Austrian defences, meant that too many attacks
were broken up before they could make any progress. Worse, poor concealment
meant that the Austrians could shatter attacks even before they commenced.
Technical problems also hampered the Italians: their air force was still
relatively weak, flash-spotting was difficult when the guns were in kaverne and
sound-ranging was almost impossible in the mountains.
The bombardment before the Eighth Battle (although involving
an even more intense barrage that destroyed 41 of the Fifth Army’s guns) made
real progress because of the combination of dust and fog in the Carso sector
during September. Austrian counter-battery and counter-assault fire inflicted
heavy casualties but the Italians retained the advantage in both guns and
ammunition. By the Ninth Battle the Italians were finally using curtain
barrages to protect their hard-won advances, deluging the inevitable
counter-attacks with gas and shrapnel before moving on to attack the Austrian
second line. Only frenzied counter-attacks straight into the Italian advance
prevented a major breakthrough. The Italians had learnt a great deal in 1916
but the Austrians were better at balancing resources and results. By
comparison, the Italian success ‘bore no relation to the mighty expenditure of
men and materiel that it cost’.
‘It will crush us all’: The Isonzo in 1917
On the Isonzo the morale of both armies was increasingly
fragile. Cadorna ignored the growing criticism from his men and listened to the
siren voices of Italian politicians (who wanted the Irredenta captured) and the
demands of the Allies (who wanted constant pressure on all fronts). After
considering the options, the Italian Third Army was ordered to attempt yet
another attack into the Carso, but this time with more supporting artillery,
including 166 new heavy batteries, but there was little sign of sophistication
in the fire-planning. Even though the Italians had doubled their number of
guns, they still had little more than a quarter of the numbers seen on the
Western Front and the uncertain ammunition supplies meant that the rate of fire
for heavy guns was a fifth of that seen in the Heavy Artillery Groups of the
Royal Artillery. Field Marshal Robertson, visiting the front before the
offensives of 1917, was stunned by the lack of pre-battle planning: ‘no system
of co-operation existed between the artillery and the infantry in the attack;
in fact the relations between the two seemed strained.’
Cadorna’s tenth offensive on the Isonzo began a few weeks
after Nivelle’s offensive had collapsed and was delayed by the transfer of guns
from the Trentino. On 10 May some 2,150 guns and 980 mortars blasted Austrian
positions northwest of Gorizia for 44 hours. Initially the intention was to
form a bridgehead at Hill 383 and then seize the Bainsizza Plateau. The
Austrian artillery, firing at pre-planned sectors of the defensive system,
shattered the first massed assaults. However, Italian numbers, a successful
bombardment and dwindling Austrian ammunition stocks meant the Italians still
managed to seize part of the Tri Santi position. Even then the Austrians
reacted quickly, retaking several key positions in night attacks.
In other sectors the usual problems of coordination led to
ruinously heavy casualties but the Italians grimly refocused their efforts.
They shifted artillery from sector to sector and their methodical battering of
Austrian positions enabled gradual progress. In some sectors intense shelling
prevented either side from holding the objective. The attack on the Asiago
Plateau was even less successful, with heavy rain disrupting the preparatory
bombardment and Austrian machine guns slaughtering the fanti struggling through
the mud and barbed wire. An Alpini captain described the aftermath: ‘the
mountain is infinitely taciturn, like a dead world, with its snowfields soiled,
the shell-craters, the burnt pines. But the breath of battle wafts over all – a
stench of excrement and dead bodies.’ With typical petulance, Cadorna was
furious with the slow progress of some units and blamed everyone but himself
for the inadequacies of his own plan.
To launch the second phase of the battle, on to the
Bainsizza Plateau, the Italians fired a million shells in 10 hours –
approximately 20 shells for every foot of the front line. Dust and smoke from
the intense bombardment covered the advancing infantry and major gains were
made wherever the artillery were able to dominate the battlefield. The
Austrians retained the key observation posts and utilised units released from
the Eastern Front, using more flexible tactics and working more closely with their
artillery support, to counter-attack and many of the Italian gains were lost.
During the savage fighting both sides expended prodigious amounts of ammunition
– the Austrian Fifth Army fired almost 2 million shells during the battle – a
rate of expenditure that Austria’s industrial base could not support.
After a short pause, during which Cadorna displayed a
ruthless disregard for the simmering discontent within the army, the Italians
began planning the Eleventh Battle, which Cadorna described as a ‘general
simultaneous attack’. The Second and Third Armies would take both Gorizia and
the entire Bainsizza Plateau before capturing Tolmein, the Austrian Isonzo
army’s main railhead. However, even if Cadorna’s plan succeeded, the Bainsizza
was a rugged wilderness that would prove a poor basis for a fresh offensive,
and Boroevic´ recognised this flaw in the plan for the eleventh Italian
offensive far better than did his Italian opposite number. The Italians massed
3, 750 guns and 1,900 mortars, almost three times the Austrians’ total (450
heavy guns and 1,250 field and mountain guns), and four times the ammunition;
the artillery duel would be the largest on that front. The barrage commenced on
18 August with the Italian guns, howitzers and mortars mercilessly hammering
the entire front line. The quality of the artillery preparation was higher than
in earlier battles and there were a small number of Allied batteries supporting
the attack. In some sectors the defenders were rapidly cut off from
headquarters and the defending corps commanders found it difficult to
coordinate counter-attacks or to update the Isonzo army’s headquarters on the
progress of the battle. Elsewhere the difficult terrain and poor Italian
planning gave the Austrians enough time to reorganise and prevent a
Weak planning left the Italians unable to capitalise on
their gains. Despite their collapsing defences, the Austrians could choose to
withdraw or to feed troops into the meat-grinder. Boroevic´ was assured by the
High Command that a counter-offensive was being planned and commenced a series
of skilful Austrian withdrawals that delighted the Italians but ensured that he
was able to consolidate on new positions on the eastern edge of the plateau.
The end result was that the Italians secured most of the Bainsizza Plateau but
stalled in front of Boroevic´’s new position, unsure of how to proceed. Monte
Santo was taken by coup de main but desperate assaults on San Gabriele by
massed columns were torn apart by artillery and machine-gun fire. Desperate
counter-attacks, supported by heavy artillery, prevented the last of the Tri
Santi from falling; the mountain is said to have lost 10 metres in altitude due
to the near-continuous bombardment by guns of calibres of up to 420mm. Angelo Gatti,
a staff officer in the supreme command, described his mounting despair: ‘I feel
something collapsing inside me; I shall not be able to endure this much longer,
none of us will; it is too gigantic, truly limitless, it will crush us all.’
The Austrians looked as if they had suffered a major defeat but, after
Cadorna’s grimly pyrrhic victory, the tide was about to turn.
There are excellent British sources on the quality of the
Italian artillery at this stage of the war. Lieutenant Hugh Dalton served with
the B2 Heavy Artillery Group assigned to the Isonzo sector while
Lieutenant-Colonel Archibald Moberly commanded B1 Heavy Artillery Group. Dalton
was particularly impressed with the individual technical skills of the Italian
artillery and their incomparable mountain engineers but noted that local
commanders were very keen to secure Royal Artillery support. While the total number
of shells appears impressive on the Isonzo Front, Dalton noticed that the
ammunition levels were lower than those in France and Flanders and noted that
this was reflected in the rates of fire, RA ‘ordinary’ rate being 30 rounds per
hour, five times Italy’s fuoco normale. Dalton also noted that the proportion
of heavy guns was one quarter of what he had experienced in France. The
abundance of good observation post sites astonished the Royal Artillery
officers. Depending on the sector, there were kavernen, mountain huts or
treetop hides, all under cloudless skies. Such luxury delighted one of Dalton’s
colleagues, who gleefully described Italy as a ‘gunner’s heaven’. The no. 101
fuse was almost as effective as the no. 106 in Italy due to the impact advantage
of hitting solid rock. Wire-clearing was relatively simple but a great deal of
fire was required to destroy rockhewn trenches or kavernen – Moberly and his
Italian colleagues naturally preferred enfilade fire to lobbing shells straight
into the enemy’s defensive line and both Dalton and Moberly were impressed by
the ‘man-killing’ effect of high explosive in the mountains (as at Gallipoli,
the rocky terrain increased the effectiveness of the artillery).
Moberly was equally impressed by the Italian engineers but
rather less impressed with the higher levels of command. The lack of telephone
wire for communications surprised him, particularly as the observations posts
that had so impressed Dalton tended to be distant from the battery and thus
required even more wire than usual. Italian HAG equivalents, the
raggruppamenti, were allotted to sectors, not to particular assault or
defensive units, and Moberly was surprised by the fact that there was no
expectation that he would meet with the commander of the division he was
supporting. During the first operation supported by B1, Moberly noted the
Italians were still grappling with technical issues that had been identified
and solved on the Western Front years before, particularly regarding
communication between the assault units and the supporting artillery, a
situation aggravated by the smoke and dust created by the bombardment obscuring
the target. He was also troubled by the lack of specific missions assigned to
his men and the concentration on planned but uncoordinated support for attacks.
Moberly noted that the ineffectiveness of Italian
counter-battery fire was due to the HAGs assigned to the task being allocated
to army and not corps command and thus lacking tactical coordination in the
battles. As a result the counter-battery staff soon lost touch with the
progress of the battle and found it difficult to coordinate fire. Moberly even
received orders to shell positions that his own observation posts had reported
as silent for days. Commando Supremo had made counter-battery work a priority
for ammunition allocation, but had not realised that numbers did not equal
results. Counter-battery orders criss-crossed the chain of command, bypassing
the heavy artillery raggruppamenti and going to the field artillery groupes, a
system that naturally led to some confusion and to errors that made
counter-battery fire ineffective. Attempts to solve problems created others:
the deliberate simplification of orders, for example, speeded up their
transmission across scratchy telephone lines, but sometimes led to requests for
a handful of shells so even a timely request lacked enough power. The only
aspect that impressed Moberly was that counter-battery officers spent four days
out of every eight at front-line observation posts and thus established a close
relationship with the Forward Observation Officers.
Although its Turin Arsenal manufactured a limited number of
mountain guns, before World War I, Italy acquired its artillery from foreign
sources, including Krupp of Germany, the Austro – Hungarian Skoda factory, and
the French Deport firm. These included the Krupp-designed 75mm 75/27 Mo. 06,
which also saw service in World War II, and the 75mm Gun Mo. 11 Deport.
Designed by the prolific Colonel Albert Deport of France and adopted in 1912,
the 75mm Gun Mo. 11 Deport introduced a dual recoil system as well as the split
trail carriage. The latter innovation incorporated twin hinged trails that
could be closed for limbering and then spread apart to stabilize the piece and
allow greater recoil at higher elevation. The Mo. 11 was acquired by other
powers as well as Italy, and the split trail carriage quickly became the standard
for nearly all field pieces worldwide.
Italy also fielded the 75mm Gun Mo. 06/12 and a howitzer
designated the Obice da 100/17 Mo. 14. An Austro-Hungarian design, the quick – firing
caliber 100mm Mo. 14 howitzer was adopted in 1914, and numbers were also
captured from the Central Powers at the end of World War I. The 100/17 saw
extensive Italian service during World War II and was also used by Polish and
Cannone da75/27 modello 11
Although the Cannone da75/27 modello 11 was designed by a
Frenchman it was produced only in Italy and may thus qualify as an Italian
weapon. The designer was named Deport, who conceived the idea of a recoil
mechanism that could stay fixed in a horizontal plane while the barrel could be
elevated to any angle desired. The advantages of this system are rather
obscure, but the Italian army certainly took to the idea to the extent that
they produced the modello 11 in large numbers.
The modello 11 was a relatively small field piece, as a
result mainly of the fact that it was originally ordered for cavalry use, In
time it was issued to other arms and became a standard field gun, Apart from
the unusual (an uncopied) recoil system, the modello 11 also had one other
novel feature for its day. This was split trail legs which gave the gun an unusually
wide traverse by contemporary standards, and also enabled the barrel to be elevated
to a maximum of 65* allowing the gun to be used in mountainous areas if
required, In action the trails were spread and instead of the more usual tail
spade the legs were held in place by stakes hammered through slots at the end
of each. This certainly held the gun steady for firing, but there were two disadvantages
to this system. One was that any large change of traverse could not be made
until the stakes had been laboriously removed from the ground; the other was
that on rocky or hard ground it took time to hammer in the stakes. For all
these potential troubles the Italians used the stake securing method on many of
their artillery designs, large and small.
The modello 11 was a handy little weapon with a good range;
its 10240-m (11200-yard) capability was well above that of many of its
contemporaries. However, for its size it was rather heavy, which was no doubt a
factor in its change from the cavalry to the field artillery, In action it had
a crew of at least four men although a full detachment was six, the extra two
looking after the horses.
It is known that some of these guns were used by the Italian
maritime artillery militia within the Italian coastal defence organization. The
modello 11s appear to have been used as light mobile batteries that could be
used for close-in beach defences of likely landing spots. Many of the modello 11s
were still in use in this role after 1940, and many other modello 11s were in
service with the field arti1lery. In fact so many were still on hand in 1943
that many came under German control, with the designation 7.5-cm Feldkanone
244(i), for use by the German occupation forces in Italy. By that time many
modello 11s had been modified for powered traction by conversion of the old
wooden spoked wheels to new steel-spoked wheels and revised shields; these
modernized equipments used pneumatic tyres.
The DELFIN was a product of the Bubnov committee at the tum of the century and was considered by many as the first true combat submarine in the Russian Navy. Following the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 the DELFIN was employed as a training ship in the St. Petersburg area for officers and men assigned to new construction submarines.
Russian submarine Kasatka.
British journalist Fred T. Jane, writing in 1899 after an
extensive tour of naval installations in Russia, observed, “I may,
however, mention that the Russians believe very much in underwater craft, and do
not regard the submarine battleship as an idle dream.”
This statement, although an exaggeration of the situation in
Russia at the time, was indicative of the high degree of interest in submarines
among Russian naval authorities at the beginning of the 20th century. The
modern Russian submarine fleet in many respects dates from the establishment,
on 19 December 1900, of a special submarine committee of the Naval Technical
Committee (MTK-Morskoy Technicheskiy Komitet). Its purpose was to evaluate
foreign submarine designs and prepare proposals for one that could be
constructed for the Russian Navy. The chairman of the submarine committee was
the noted engineer Ivan Grigor’evich Bubnov, who would be responsible for most
Russian submarine designs until the collapse of the tsarist government in 1917.
The other committee members were Lieutenant Mikhail Nikolaevich Beklemishev, a
graduate of the Naval Academy in the constructor branch, and mechanical
engineer Ivan Semenovich Goryunov. The committee studied projects submitted to
the 1898 competition held in Paris, and proposals by the Russian submarine pioneer
Dzhevetskiy and the Frenchman Maxime Laubeuf. In 1901 Beklemishev visited the
United States, where he became acquainted with the submarine designs of John P.
Holland and Simon Lake. He also visited Great Britain, France, and Italy to
look at contemporary submarine efforts in those countries.
While the Bubnov committee did its work, Russia’s first
submarine of the 20th century was constructed in 1901 at Kronshtadt to the
design of engineer Nikolai Nikolaevich Kuteinikov and Lieutenant (later
Captain) Evgeniy Viktorovich Kolbas’yev. Their submarine was intended to be
carried on deck of surface warships and to be launched when within attack range
of enemy ships.
This submersible displaced 20 tons, was 50 feet (15.25 m)
long, and had a beam of about 4 feet (1.2 m). Propulsion was provided by
electric motors driving six propulsors (screws) with power supplied by six Bary
accumulators, which were evenly divided be- tween three forward and three after
compartments, as were the ballast tanks. (The hull was divided into nine
watertight compartments, a precursor to the arrangement of later undersea craft)
The interior of the boat was accessible through a hatch in the conning tower.
Both a bow and a stern rudder were fitted. The armament for this craft
consisted of two torpedoes mounted in external Dzhevetskiy drop collars. These
could be trained and fired from within the boat.
Kuteinikov was responsible for the submarine’s hull and
Kolbas’yev for the electrical installations. Upon completion in 1902 this craft
was baptized PETR KOSHKA, after a Russian sailor who had distinguished himself
during the defense of Sevastopol in the Crimean War. The craft was to be
transferred to Sevastopol for trials.
Although it was apparent that the Russian Navy was
proceeding with caution with regard to submarine construction and clearly did
not intend to invest large sums of money, a number of projects were under some
form of official consideration at the beginning of the century. One of these
was designed by Dzhevetskiy, who had lived in Paris since 1893. The design had
been reviewed at the New Admiralty yard in St. Petersburg for its practicability
in 1901, but had been discarded.
In May 1901 the Bubnov committee completed its work and
proposed to the Naval Technical Committee the development of a submarine based
on the Holland design, with some major design changes coming from Bubnov. These
changes principally consisted of situating the main ballast tanks aft and
incorporating the Dzhevetskiy drop-collar launching system rather than
internally (tube) launched torpedoes. These features would be standard on most
submarine designs pre- pared in Russia up to 1915.
Detail design work on the undersea craft recommended by the
Bubnov committee began forthwith, and on 5 July 1901 the prototype boat,
ultimately named DELFIN, was ordered from the Baltic Works in St. Petersburg.
Construction proceeded under great secrecy under the direction of Bubnov and
now-Captain Beklernishev. The installation of the DELFIN’S machinery and other
equipment was completed by the spring of 1903, and sea trials began on 20 June
1903. They were evidently quite successful.
The DELFIN was considered by the Russians to have been the
first true combat submarine in their Navy. After the outbreak of the
Russo-Japanese War in 1904 the DELFIN was employed as a training ship in the
St. Petersburg area for officers and men assigned to new construction
By mid-1903 a Dzhevetskiy submarine design of some 800 tons
appears to have been under consideration or possibly under construction, also
at the Baltic Works in St. Petersburg. There is no record that the 800-ton
Dzhevetskiy boat was completed, if indeed she was actually begun. This
particular unit was stilI listed in the 1909 edition of the German yearbook
Nauticus, although by that time it had certainly ceased to exist.
In commenting on the Russian Navy’s attitude toward
submarines at this time, the German naval attaché in St. Petersburg noted,
“Although perhaps at the moment there are only limited funds available, I
would like to bring to your attention that perhaps with the exception of some
problems still to be resolved there will be no further delays in ordering
submarines. There is a highly favorable attitude towards this new weapon in the
officer corps as well as among the engineers, reinforced by the belief that
both types are truly Russian inventions.
In this vein, encouraged by the success of the DELFIN, the
Naval Ministry on 13 August 1903 ordered the development of a design for a
larger submarine. On 20 December 1903, the Naval Technical Committee approved
the design of the KASATKA class of 140 tons prepared by the team of Bubnov and
Beklemishev. It was at the same time also agreed to construct ten sub- marines
of this design through 1914. The lead unit, named KASATKA (swallow), was
ordered from the Baltic Works on 2 January 1904, further establishing that
shipyard as the premier Russian submarine builder.
The next four units were ordered from the Baltic Works on 24
February 1904, with a sixth, funded by public subscription, ordered on 26 March
1904. These submarines were:
FELDMARSHAL GRAF SHEREMETEV
Thus, the first five submarines of the class were named for
fish, while the sixth remembered a Commander in Chief of Peter the Great’s
forces in victories in the Baltic area. The construction of these six
submarines was accelerated with the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War in
February 1904, and all six units were launched between July and August 1904.
Under the pressure of war, the KASATKA was the only unit to be assembled for
trials in the Baltic. The other were prepared for transfer in sections by
railroad to the Far East.
The initial trials of the KASATKA were not very successful
and steering difficulty was noted during the first dive. This was caused by a
design fault that had placed the conning tower-and hence the center of buoyancy-too
far forward. This stability problem was temporarily solved by adding a second
conning tower aft. (Permanent new conning towers were not installed until
1906-1907.) Another defect was that the paraffin engines ordered from Germany
had not been ready in time to be installed (and in fact were never delivered).
The trouble was that these engines were to have been capable of burning either
lamp paraffin or heavy oil. The German Koerting firm was to have provided these
engines for the KASATKA as well as the subsequent KARP class. These engines
were supposed to be safer than petrol or gasoline engines. However, Koerting
had only built small, eight-horsepower engines of this type and had encountered
delays in producing the larger engines. A makeshift solution was found for the
Russian submarines by instead mounting a small dynamo for charging the storage
batteries. Another problem occurred with the KASATKA on 2 October 1904, when it
was found that a hatch was not watertight.
In general, however, the trials were sufficiently successful
that the KASATKA, SKAT, NALIM. and FELDMARSHAL GRAF SHEREMETEV were loaded for
transport by train to Vladivostok on 17 November 1904. Completion of the two
remaining submarines was delayed until 1907.
During 1905 the small experimental submarine KETA was
constructed by the engineering works of G. A. Lessner in St. Petersburg. This
was a modified and lengthened Dzhevetskiy Type III craft, designed by a
Lieutenant S. Yanovich. The craft was propelled by a gasoline engine driving
one propeller shaft, and could be armed with two torpedoes. The KETA was also
transferred to the Far East during the Russo-Japanese War. She was apparently
not successful and was stricken from the Navy list on 19 June 1908.
Mujahedeen rebels aim US-made Stinger missiles near
Afghan guerrillas own a downed Soviet Mi-8B helicopter gunship, near the Salang Highway, a vital supply route north from Kabul to the Soviet border. Picture released on January 12, 1981.
There are many claims about the impact of the Stinger
Missile given to the Mujahedin during the Soviet – Afghan War. Some of the lost
aircraft were shot down by the Redeye missile. Redeye was an earlier IR
AIRCRAFT SHOT DOWN
What is known is that during the war, the Soviets lost about
330 helicopters and around 120 jets during the entire war 1979 – 89.
Mil Mi-24’s SHOT DOWN
A total of 50 Hinds were lost during the entire war. While
many were shot down, the type of missile used was not always known. The Stinger
was delivered to the Mujahedin in September 1986. The first confirmed downing
of a Mi-24 by a Stinger was done by engineer Ghaffar, of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s
Hezb-i-Islami. He brought down the first Hind gunship with a Stinger on
September 25, 1986 near Jalalabad
Here are the losses of the Mi 24 during 1986–89.
25 September 1986
– An Mi-24 assault helicopter was shot down.
19 October 1986 –
An Mi-24 attack helicopter was shot down.
29 November 1986 –
An Mi-24 assault helicopter was shot down.
29 November 1986 –
An Mi-24 assault helicopter was shot down.
12 January 1987 –
An Mi-24 assault helicopter was shot down.
27 February 1987 –
An Mi-24 assault helicopter was shot down.
21 April 1987 – An
Mi-24 assault helicopter was shot down.
18 May 1987 – An
Mi-24 attack helicopter was shot down.
31 May 1987 – An
Mi-24 assault helicopter was shot down.
4 June 1987 – An
Mi-24 assault helicopter was shot down.
9 June 1987 – An
Mi-24 assault helicopter was shot down.
1 July 1987 – An
Mi-24 assault helicopter was shot down.
15 July 1987 – An
Mi-24 assault helicopter was shot down.
29 September 1987
– An Mi-24 assault helicopter was shot down.
30 October 1987 –
An Mi-24 attack helicopter was shot down.
16 February 1988 –
An Mi-24 attack helicopter was shot down
26 February 1988 –
An Mi-24 attack helicopter was shot down
29 February 1988 –
An Mi-24 attack helicopter shot down
18 April 1988 – An
Mi-24 assault helicopter was shot down.
20 April 1988 – An
Mi-24 assault helicopter was shot down.
21 August 1988 –
An Mi-24 attack helicopter shot down
27 August 1988 –
An Mi-24 assault helicopter was shot down.
30 September 1988
– An Mi-24 attack helicopter was shot down
2 February 1989 –
An Mi-24 assault helicopter was shot down.
If they cannot recover wreckage they mark it as “destroyed
by PZRK”, PZRK mean manpad SAM, which could be one of four – Soviet Strela,
China NH5, Egypt Eye Sakr or American Stinger.
I propose 12 certain kills by Stingers and around ten more
possible kills, so ~22 in total. Even if we assume all PZRK kill after 1986
made by Stinger it gives us 31 max.
What the above shows is that upon delivery of the Stinger
Missile to the Mujahedin there was an increase in the number of Mi-24’s shot
down. In the last four years of the war at least 25 of these gunships were
brought down. As you can see this represents half of the total number of Mi-24’s
brought down during the war and they were all shot down after the Stinger was
delivered to the Mujahedin.
There were a total of 269 Soviet Aircraft losses after
September 1986 when the Stinger Missile was first given to the Mujahedin. The
Mujahedin gunners claim they were able to score these 269 kills out of 340
engagements, a roughly 70% hit rate while using the Stinger. If this report is
accurate, then the Stinger was responsible for over half of the Soviet Aircraft
losses during the entire war.
The Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989 and after the
war, many of the Stingers found their way to other countries. The US had
attempted to buy back the Stingers but at least 600 remained unaccounted for.
A German twin propelled Messerschmitt BF 110 bomber, nicknamed “Fliegender Haifisch” (Flying Shark), over the English Channel, in August of 1940.
After Dunkirk, the rhetoric of Prime Minister Winston
Churchill made it seem as though the fighters of the Royal Air Force had
snatched a victory out of the overall tide of defeat that had swept away the
British Expeditionary Force. The reality was somewhat different; the losses
sustained by RAF Fighter Command and the Luftwaffe during the evacuation phase
were about even, while the French campaign as a whole had cost Air Chief
Marshal Dowding’s Command 453 Hurricanes and Spitfires.
While Fighter Command strove to make good its losses during
June 1940, Bomber and Coastal Commands both stepped up their offensive
operations against enemy targets. In Coastal Command’s case, this involved
intensifying attacks on enemy shipping, with particular reference to convoys,
off the Dutch coast; night attacks were also made by Lockheed Hudsons on Dutch
oil targets and harbour installations. Bomber Command, while concentrating on
attacking communications and oil targets in Germany, and on minelaying
activities, also carried out limited attacks on coastal targets in the Channel
area; on the night of 13/14 June, for example, Handley Page Hampdens bombed the
docks at Boulogne and Dunkirk.
From 5 June, the Luftwaffe was also active, small numbers of
bombers attacking ‘fringe’ targets on the east and south-east coasts of
England. These attacks caused little significant damage; their main purpose was
to provide the German bomber crews with operational and navigational
experience. On both sides, great care was exercised in avoiding damage to
civilian property and loss of life. As one Ju 88 pilot, Kapitän Hajo Herrmann,
We were allocated important strategic and military
targets off the east coast of England, the oil refineries at Thames Haven and
the nitrogen works at Billingham [the latter in the north-east of England]. We
dive-bombed them under a full moon, with strict instructions either to bring
our bombs home or look for shipping targets if we were unable to identify our
main target quite clearly. I always flew on ahead and gave the others clearance
to attack only after I had recognised the target positively and had put down
one or two benzol bombs.
Many coastal reconnaissance and minelaying operations were
undertaken in the Channel area during this phase by Heinkel He 115 floatplanes.
On 30 June, the C-in-C of the Luftwaffe, Reichsmarschall
Hermann Goring, issued a general directive setting out the aims of the planned
air assault on Britain. The Luftwaffe’s main target was to be the Royal Air
Force, with particular emphasis on its fighter airfields and aircraft
factories; as long as Fighter Command remained unbeaten, the Luftwaffe’s first
priority must be to attack it by day and night at every opportunity, in the air
and on the ground, until it was destroyed. Only then would the Luftwaffe be
free to turn its attention to other targets, such as the Royal Navy’s dockyards
and operational harbours, as a preliminary to invasion.
On 3 July the Luftwaffe carried out its first daylight
attacks on the English coast. Among other targets, the forward airfield at
Manston in Kent was attacked by a small force of Dornier Do 17s, which came in
at low level and dropped anti-personnel bombs on the landing area. The only
damage was to a lawnmower. On the following day the Germans began flying
fighter sweeps over south-east England. Dowding and the Air Officer Commanding
No. 11 Group Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park, refused to be drawn, and it was not
until 7 July that there was serious skirmishes, the RAF losing six aircraft and
the Luftwaffe five. Three of the aircraft were Spitfires of No. 65 Squadron
from Hornchurch, bounced by Messerschmitt 109s.
On the morning of 10 July – the date generally accepted as
marking the start of the Battle of Britain – a Dornier Do 17P reconnaissance
aircraft of 2/Fernaufklärungsgruppe 11 sighted a large coastal convoy off the
North Foreland, heading south-west for the Straits of Dover. Although escorted
by Me 190s of I/JG 51, the Dornier was attacked and severely damaged by
Spitfires of No. 74 Squadron from Manston, eventually crash-landing near
Boulogne with the loss of three of its four crew. But the damage had been done,
and the Germans were now fully alerted to the passage of the convoy, code-named
At about 1030, a Staffel of Me 109s appeared over the
Channel, sweeping parallel to the Kentish coast. Nine Spitfires were scrambled
from Biggin Hill to intercept them and, in a brief but inconclusive engagement,
one Spitfire of No. 610 Squadron was hit in the port wing and had to make an
emergency landing at Hawkinge.
The main action began after 1330, when the CH radar station
at Dover detected a build-up of considerable size behind Cap Gris Nez and
passed on the information to HQ No. 11 Group at Uxbridge. As the enemy force –
consisting of 24 Dornier 17s of KG 2, closely escorted by 20 Me 110s of ZG 26
Horst Wessel, with a similar number of Me 109s of JG 51 flying top cover – was
plotted leaving the enemy coast, five squadrons of Hurricanes and Spitfires
were scrambled to intercept. In the battle that followed one Me 109 was shot
down into the Thames Estuary and two more crash-landed in France after
sustaining damage. The twin-engined Me 110 Zerstörer, which had performed well
against inferior opposition over Poland and France, suffered heavily; ZG 26 lost
three aircraft over Folkestone and two more were damaged by RAF fighters as
they fled across the Channel. Of KG 2’s Dorniers, two were destroyed – one when
a Hurricane of No. 111 Squadron collided with it – and three others were
The RAF’s only combat loss during the action was Hurricane
P3671 of No. 111 Squadron, which had collided with the Dornier whilst under
attack by a 109 of JG 51, losing a wing. The pilot, Flying Officer T.P.K.
Higgs, baled out but was killed. Three other 111 Squadron Hurricanes were
damaged, one by friendly fire; three Spitfires of No. 74 Squadron also received
damage, and although some of the RAF fighters had to make crash-landings their
pilots were unhurt and all the aircraft were repairable.
The determined RAF fighter attacks, together with some
accurate anti-aircraft fire – especially at Dover, where the barrage was
radar-directed – had made it impossible for the Dorniers to make a co-ordinated
attack on the convoy, although they did succeed in sinking one small ship. Away
to the west, however, the Luftwaffe enjoyed better fortune.
While the attack on the Bread convoy was still in progress,
63 Junkers Ju 88s of Luftflott 3 approached the Cornish coast from the west, confusing
the radar controllers at Dry Tree, on Lizard Point. Splitting up, the enemy
force attacked Falmouth and Swansea, its bombs falling on railways, ships at
anchor and a munitions factory, causing 86 casualties. It was a grim foretaste
of what the population of southern England would suffer in the weeks to come,
and to make matters worse the raiders escaped unscathed. Because of the radar
confusion, Spitfires of No. 92 Squadron were not scrambled from Pembrey in time
to make an interception; in fact, the only RAF pilot to come near the Ju 88s
was Wing Commander Ira (‘Taffy’) Jones, the World War I ace with 40 recorded
victories. Taking-off from a training airfield in an unarmed Hawker Henley
target tug, he chased a Ju 88 out to sea, firing Very flares at it and
doubtless cursing his lack of guns and ammunition. Jones’ exploit reinforced
the view of many Fighter Command pilots that the Henley – originally developed
as a fast light bomber, but never used in that role – might have been used to
good effect against enemy bombers if fitted with machine-guns. Capable of
nearly 300mph (480kmh), it would at least have taken some of the strain from
the hard-pressed Spitfire and Hurricane squadrons. About 200 were in service in
Thursday 11 July saw more fierce fighting over the Channel;
when the day ended the Luftwaffe had lost 15 aircraft to the RAF’s six. It was
on this day that the Junkers Ju 87 dive-bomber entered the battle, with
aircraft of LG 1 and StG 2 attacking Portland. Two Stukas were shot down, and
the inferiority of their escorting Me 110s was again demonstrated in dramatic
fashion when four were shot down by RAF fighters, two off Portland and one off
the Ney Breakwater. The fourth crash-landed at Grange Heath near Lulworth after
being attacked by pilots of Nos. 238, 87 and 601 Squadrons, in that order. All
the Me 110s belonged to 9/ZG 76.
Not all the successes of 11 July belonged to Fighter
Command. Early in the morning, an Avro Anson of No. 217 Squadron, based at St
Eval in Cornwall, was on patrol over the Channel when the Coastal Command crew
sighted a Heinkel He 59 floatplane, the type used by the German air-sea rescue
service. It was also found suspiciously close to British coastal convoys from
time to time. This example, belonging to Seenotflugkommando 1 and bearing the
civil registration D-ASOU, was damaged by the Anson and forced down into the
Channel. Its four-man crew took to their dinghy and were later picked up
drifting near the Channel Islands; the aircraft was retrieved by the Royal Navy
and beached at Walmer Harbour, Kent.
Actions against south coast targets and Channel shipping
also resulted in the loss of several Heinkel He 111s on 11 July. I/IKG 1 lost
two aircraft and had a third damaged during night operations against coastal
towns on 10/11 July, and in the early evening RAF fighters destroyed two
Heinkels of KG 55 in an attack on Portsmouth, damaging a third so badly that it
was a write-off. The Luftwaffe also lost two Dornier 17s and a Ju 88 during the
The Heinkels suffered even more heavily on 12 July, five
being shot down and a sixth damaged beyond repair. All the Heinkels except one,
which belonged to KG 26 and was shot down over Aberdeen, were engaged in
attacks on convoys off Aldeburgh and Orfordness. Two Dornier 17s and a Ju 88
were also shot down. The fight, however, was not all one-sided; return fire
from the bombers – especially the Do 17s – was very accurate, accounting for
two Hurricanes destroyed and a number damaged.
Saturday 13 July, was hailed as a major success for the
Hurricanes of No. 56 Squadron from North Weald, which intercepted a force of Ju
87s and their fighter escort over Portland. The Hurricane pilots claimed the
destruction of seven Stukas; in fact, all the enemy dive-bombers returned to
base except two which made forced landings in France. One of the Me 110 escorts
was shot down and three suffered heavy damage. Elsewhere, Hurricanes of No. 238
Squadron shot down a Dornier 17 reconnaissance aircraft off Chesil Beach, while
Spitfires destroyed an Me 109 south of Dover. In the day’s action, No. 56
Squadron lost two Hurricanes and No. 238 Squadron one.
During this phase, Air Chief Marshal Dowding, anxious to
preserve his fighter strength, committed the Hurricanes and Spitfires to convoy
protection work in relatively small numbers; fighter cover was only increased
when a convoy reached the perilous waters of the Dover Straits, although the
forward coastal airfields of Fighter Command were reinforced on 19 July, when
an improvement in the weather brought expectations of greater enemy activity.
In fact, this day proved a black one for the Command, which lost ten fighters
against four Luftwaffe aircraft shot down. Six of the RAF aircraft were the
hapless Boulton Paul Defiants of No. 141 Squadron from West Mailing, which were
bounced by the Me 109s of III/JG 51 off Dover and shot down in flames one after
the other. Ten of the squadron’s pilots and air gunners were lost.
There were several major engagements over the Dover Straits
during the last days of July, and the entry in the war diary of No. 32
Squadron, operating out of Biggin Hill, is fairly typical of an 11 Group unit
during this period:
20 July 1940. Convoy escort, 10 miles east of Dover. At
17.58 hours with 610 Squadron, intercepted a raid on the convoy by about fifty
Junkers Ju 87s and Messerschmitt 110s, escorted by Messerschmitt 109Es. Led by
S/L Worrall the Squadron shot down six of the enemy (3 Me 110s, 2 Me 109s and
one Ju 87) and damaged four others (all Me 109s). One Hurricane was lost but
the pilot, F/Lt Bulmer, is reported to have baled out near North Foreland. Sgt
Higgins was slightly wounded in the face by splinters from bullets striking his
Also typically, the claims in the above report are wildly
exaggerated. In all probability, No. 32 Squadron scored no success that day. No
Me 110s were lost on operations, and the five Me 109s confirmed as destroyed
were attributed to other fighter squadrons. Nor did the Luftwaffe lose any Ju
87s, although four made forced landings in France with varying degrees of
damage. In all, the Germans lost 14 aircraft on 20 July, the RAF nine fighters.
On 25 July the Luftwaffe adopted a change of tactics,
sending out strong fighter sweeps to draw the RAF fighters into battle before
launching its bomber attacks. As a consequence, 60 Ju 87 Stukas were able to
bomb a convoy with impunity while the fighters of No. 11 Group were on the
ground refuelling. Later in the day, the convoy was attacked by 30 Ju 88s,
escorted by about 50 Me 109s. The attacks continued until 1830 hours; 15 of
Dowding’s fighter squadrons were engaged in the course of the day, destroying
16 enemy aircraft for the loss of eight of their own, all Spitfires.
In four weeks of operations over the English Channel, the
Luftwaffe had sunk 40,000 tons of British shipping, including three destroyers.
Combat losses during the month’s air fighting were Luftwaffe 190, RAF Fighter
Command 77, of which 46 were Hurricanes – the aircraft which had borne the
brunt of the fighting, and would continue to do so. Fifty RAF fighter pilots
were killed or missing, and with German preparations for the invasion of
England clearly under way, the loss was serious. It was already apparent that
such a continued rate of attrition would be extremely hard, if not impossible,
to make good.
There followed a comparative lull lasting a week. Then, on 8
August, Hurricanes were at the forefront of a furious air battle that developed
when large formations of Ju 87s, under strong fighter escort, attacked a 250-ship
convoy code-named Peewit off the Isle of Wight. One of the Hurricane squadrons
involved was No. 145 from Westhampnett, led by Squadron Leader J.R.A. Peel. The
RAF pilots were about to engage a Stuka formation when they were themselves
bounced by 109s and forced on the defensive. Two of the squadron’s Hurricanes,
one of them Peel’s, were shot down; the CO was rescued from the sea off
Boulogne. That day’s fighting cost the RAF 15 Hurricanes and Spitfires against
21 enemy aircraft destroyed; it was the biggest loss sustained by Fighter
Command since the offensive began. The RAF’s losses for 8 August included a
number of aircraft destroyed in air actions over Dover and the Thames Estuary,
when six squadrons of Hurricanes and two of Spitfires intercepted two heavy
raids carried out under strong fighter escort. Six Hurricanes were lost in
these battles, the others claiming six enemy aircraft.
The Peewit convoy, meanwhile, had lost six ships, three sunk
by S-boats before dawn and the others by air attack. Several more were damaged.
It was the first convoy to attempt a passage through the Dover Straits in
daylight since 25 July, in the day of furious action when S-Boats and bombers
had sunk or badly damaged 11 out of 21 ships, mostly colliers. Peewit was
unfortunate in that the enemy had been alerted to its presence by a
newly-completed coastal radar station at Wissant (Ushant), one of several
experimental stations that were being set up along the arc of coast from the
Friesian Islands to the Cherbourg Peninsula. It was to be some time before the
British became aware that radar – or radio locations, as it was still known –
was no longer their sole monopoly.
Bad weather frustrated operations on 9 and 10 August, the
latter originally scheduled as Adlertag– Eagle Day, the start of the German air
offensive proper – but on the 11th four heavy air attacks were launched on
Dover and Portland. The Dover raids were intercepted by the Hurricanes of Nos.
1, 17, 32, 56, 85 and 111 Squadrons, which claimed 11 enemy aircraft for the
loss of nine of their own, and by the Spitfires of Nos. 64, 65 and 74
Squadrons, which claimed five for the loss of three. Five of the shot-down
Hurricanes belonged to No. 111 Squadron, which could claim only one
Messerschmitt 109 in return, and worse than the loss of the aircraft was the
fact that four of the pilots were killed. The attack on Portland, carried out
by Ju 88s with an escort of Me 110s, was broken up by 16 Hurricanes of Nos. 87,
213 and 218 Squadrons, together with ten Spitfires of Nos. 152 and 603; nine
enemy aircraft were shot down for the loss of five RAF fighters. There were
more skirmishes in the afternoon as the Germans attempted to bomb a convoy, and
the day ended with 35 enemy aircraft destroyed for the loss of 30 Hurricanes
and Spitfires. Since the beginning of July the Luftwaffe had lost 274 aircraft,
the RAF 124.
On 12 August, the Luftwaffe switched the weight of its
attacks to the coastal radar stations and the forward airfields of Manston,
Lympne and Hawkinge. That morning, 24 hours before the main offensive was due
to begin, 21 Messerschmitt 109s and 110s took off from Calais-Marck airfield
and set course out over the Channel. They belonged to Erprobungsgruppe 210; the
only unit of its kind in the Luftwaffe, its aircraft had all been fitted with
racks enabling them to carry 500- and 1,000lb (225 and 450kg) bombs. On the
previous day the Gruppe had tried out the idea operationally for the first time
when 24 Messerschmitts dive-bombed convoy Booty off the Harwich–Clacton
coastline, setting two freighters on fire. The German aircraft had been
intercepted by the Spitfires of No. 74 Squadron, but all had returned to base.
On the morning of 12 August, Erprobungsgruppe 210’s targets
were the radar stations at Dover, Pevensey and Rye. At 1100 hours, Me 110s
dropped eight 1,000lb (450kg) bombs on the Pevensey station, while the
remainder of the Gruppe attacked the masts at Rye and Dover. Although the bombs
caused some damage, all three stations were operational again within three
It was a different story at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight,
where the radar station was attacked 30 minutes later by 15 Junkers 88s of KG
51 and KG 54. Their bombing was extremely accurate and the station was damaged
beyond repair. To cover up the dangerous gap created by the loss of the Ventnor
station, the British transmitted a false signal on the wrecked transmitter’s
frequency; the German listening-posts on the other side of the Channel believed
that Ventnor was still fully operational. In fact it was only after 11 days of
non-stop work that another station was brought into action on the Isle of
While Ventnor was under attack, around 75 more Ju 88s
dive-bombed Portsmouth harbour, Portland and industrial targets in Portsmouth
and Southampton, including the Supermarine Spitfire production plant at
Woolston. The Ju 88s made their attack through the balloon barrage and intense
anti-aircraft fire put up by shore batteries and ships in the harbour. Their
bombs caused substantial damage, especially in Portsmouth, and 100 or so
casualties. But the attack cost the Luftwaffe dearly; ten Ju 88s failed to
return, falling victim either to the anti-aircraft barrage, the Spitfires of
No. 152 Squadron or the Hurricanes of No. 213. Five Me 110s and an Me 109,
escorting the bombers, were also destroyed.
At noon, the CHL radar station at Foreness, untouched by the
morning’s attacks, reported 50 plus hostiles off North Foreland. They were
Junkers Ju 87s, and they were searching for two Channel convoys, Agent and
Arena. The attack on the latter was successful, the escorting fighters keeping
the Spitfires and Hurricanes at arm’s length, and several vessels were sunk or
damaged, but the attack on Agent was beaten off, albeit at the cost of four
Hurricanes destroyed. All the Ju 87s returned to base.
In parallel with these attacks, a force of Dornier 17s of KG
2 raided the airfield at Lympne with showers of 100lb (45kg) bombs, causing
some damage to the hangars, tarmac and buildings. Then, at 1330 hours, it was
once again the turn of Erprobungsgruppe 210; 20 Messerschmitts swept across the
airfield at Manston and dropped their bombs just as a flight of Spitfires of
No. 65 Squadron was preparing to take-off. The Spitfires got airborne amid the
exploding bombs and climbed for altitude, but the raiders had gone. Manston was
temporarily put out of action. Later that afternoon the German bombers struck
at Hawkinge and again at Lympne; both airfields were heavily damaged, and all
through the night personnel worked like slaves to repair the cratered runways.
By nightfall on 12 August the Luftwaffe had despatched 300
bombers, with as many escorting fighters, against British targets. The Germans
had lost 27 aircraft, the RAF 20; and the main offensive had yet to develop.
A formation of low-flying German Heinkel He 111 bombers flies over the waves of the English Channel in 1940.
There was a significant development on 12 August and it had
nothing to do with the air battle. Soon after the Luftwaffe completed its
attack on the radar stations, heavy-calibre shells from a German long-range
battery across the Channel exploded in Dover. It was the town’s first
experience of such an attack, but it would not be the last.
During the night, the Luftwaffe carried out several
harassing attacks on coastal targets, including the docks at Bristol. During
this raid, a Heinkel He 111 of KG 27 crash-landed at Sturminster Marshall, near
Wimborne, Dorset, after being abandoned by its crew, who were all taken
prisoner. The Heinkel had been attacked by a Blenheim night-fighter equipped
with highly secret, and still very experimental, AI radar.
At 0730 the next morning the Luftflotten stood ready to
launch the first attacks of Adlertag, but at the last minute H-Hour was
postponed because of bad weather. The Dornier 17s of KG 2, however, failed to
receive the signal in time; they took off in fog and rain and set course for
the English coast without fighter escort. The 55 Dorniers were tracked by radar
and Air Vice-Marshal Park scrambled two squadrons of Hurricanes and a squadron
of Spitfires, dividing them between the damaged airfields at Hawkinge and
Manston and a convoy in the Thames Estuary. He also ordered most of a squadron
of Hurricanes to patrol between Arundel and Petworth, leaving behind one
section to cover their home base of Tangmere, near Chichester. Lastly, a
squadron of Hurricanes orbiting over Canterbury could be called upon to support
any of the other units engaging the enemy. Further west the Air Officer
Commanding No. 10 Group, Air Vice-Marshal Quintin Brand, scrambled a squadron
of Hurricanes to patrol the Dorset coast. Another squadron and a half of
Hurricanes were held on immediate readiness at Exeter.
Flying in tight information, just under the cloud base, the
Dorniers passed over Eastchurch airfield and unloaded their bombs on the
runways, hangars and parked aircraft. At that moment the raiders were attacked
by the Spitfires of No. 74 Squadron from Hornchurch, led by Squadron Leader
A.G. Malan. One of the Dorniers was shot down and the remainder scattered,
climbing towards the clouds. The battle was then joined by the Hurricanes of
No. 151 Squadron, under Squadron Leader E.M. Donaldson, followed a few minutes
later by the Hurricanes of No. 111 led by Squadron Leader J.M. Thompson, and a
fierce air battle developed over the Thames Estuary. By the time the bombers
reached the shelter of the clouds four more had been destroyed.
At 1130 hours, 23 Me 110s of Zerstörer-Lehrgeschwader 1 took
off from their airfield near Caen with orders to patrol the English south coast
near Portland. Although they were picked up by radar as they crossed the French
coast near Cherbourg, and although their strength was correctly reported as
‘twenty plus bandits’, the radar could not tell what type of aircraft they
were. Since Dowding had given orders that his Spitfires and Hurricanes were to
avoid combat with enemy fighters if possible (a fact that had been known to the
Germans since late July, thanks to Luftwaffe signals intelligence, which had
intercepted transmissions between RAF Sector Controllers and patrolling
fighters) the controllers of No. 11 Group would probably not have scrambled any
fighter squadrons had they known the identity of the enemy aircraft. In the event
three squadrons took off from Tangmere, Warmwell and Exeter to intercept the
enemy, and in so doing fell into the very trap that Dowding had been trying to
avoid. The Germans planned that when their bombers eventually arrived they
would catch the Spitfires and Hurricanes on the ground as they refuelled and
The Hurricanes engaged the Me 110s over the coast and the
German fighters immediately adopted a defensive circle. Three Hurricanes were
forced to break off the action with battle damage, but five Me 110s went down
into the sea, and five more returned to France severely hit. The action once
again highlighted the heavy, twin-engined Me 110’s vulnerability in combat with
lighter, more manoeuvrable fighters, and to make matters worse ZLG l’s mission
had failed. The unit had drawn three British fighter squadrons on to itself so
that the bombers could slip through according to plan – but the bombers did not
come for another three hours, by which time the RAF fighter squadrons were
ready for them once more.
At 1500 hours, 52 Junkers 87s of StG 2 took off from their
base at Flers to attack RAF airfields in the Portland area. They were escorted
by the Me 109s of JG 27. However, southern England was hidden under a blanket
of cloud, making a dive-bombing attack out of the question, and the Stukas
circled over the coast in search of a target. Within minutes their fighter
escort was being hotly engaged by a strong force of Hurricanes from Exeter and
Middle Wallop, while 15 Spitfires of No. 609 Squadron attacked the bombers.
Five of the Stukas were quickly shot down; the remainder jettisoned their bombs
and fled for home.
The next wave of bombers, approaching the coast a few
minutes later, ran into the hornets’ nest stirred up by StG 2. They were the Ju
88s of KG 54, and they used the cloud cover to good advantage. One formation
dropped its bombs on Southampton harbour, while others dived on the airfield at
Middle Wallop, one of Fighter Command’s vital sector stations. The bombs caused
only light damage, but severe damage was inflicted by another Ju 88 formation
at Andover, a few miles away. Three Ju 88s were shot down and 11 returned with
battle damage, some making crash-landings.
Meanwhile, over Kent, No. 11 Group was having a hard time.
General Bruno Loerzer’s II Fliegerkorps has sent in both its Stuka-Geschwader,
as well as a third from VIII Fliegerkorps, preceded by the Me 109s of JG 26.
The Messerschmitts were able to beat off a flight of Spitfires from Kenley,
allowing the 86 Junkers 87s to proceed unmolested to their target, the airfield
of Detling near Maidstone. Fifteen minutes later the airfield lay in ruins; the
hangars were burning, the operations room was wrecked, the station commander
was dead and 20 British aircraft were destroyed. It was a brilliant attack, and
in terms of its execution was highly successful. But there were no RAF fighters
at Detling; it was a Coastal Command station. Nevertheless, among the aircraft
destroyed were eight Blenheims of No. 53 Squadron, recently deployed there to
carry out attacks on the enemy-held Channel ports.
At the close of Adlertag the Luftwaffe had flown 485
sorties, mostly against RAF airfields; three had been badly damaged, but none
was a fighter base. The cost to the Luftwaffe was 34 aircraft; the RAF lost 13
aircraft and seven pilots. On 14 August, operations against the British Isles
were hampered by bad weather. Nevertheless, attacks by small numbers of
aircraft on Manston, Dover, Middle Wallop and Sealand cost the Luftwaffe bombers
and six fighters, while the RAF lost five Hurricanes and a Spitfire, together
with three Blenheim fighters of No. 600 Squadron destroyed on the ground during
an attack on Manston by Me 110s of Erpobungsgruppe 210.
At 1030 hours on 15 August patches of blue sky began to show
through the grey overcast which had stretched from horizon to horizon since
dawn, and by 1100 the clouds had broken up completely. A few minutes later, 40
Stukas of II Fliergerkorps, escorted by a similar number of Me 109s, crossed
the French coast near Cap Blanc Bez. Their targets were the airfields of Lympne
and Hawkinge. As they approached the English coast they were met by the
Spitfires of No. 64 Squadron and the Hurricanes of No. 501, but these were held
at bay by the 109s and the Stukas caused severe damage at Lympne, putting the
airfield out of action for two days. The damage was less severe at Hawkinge,
where one hangar was hit and a barrack block destroyed.
The battle now shifted to the north, where two Geschwader of
Luftflotte 5, operating from bases in Norway and Denmark, attempted to attack
airfields and industrial targets in the Tyne–Tees area and in Yorkshire. The
raids were intercepted by seven RAF fighter squadrons, which destroyed eight
Heinkel 111s, six Junkers 88s and eight escorting Me 110s for the loss of one
Hurricane. In mid-afternoon the battle flared up again in the south, when a
major raid was mounted by the Dornier 17s of KG 3 from St Trond and
Antwerp-Deurne, in Belgium. Over the coast they made rendezvous with their
fighter escort, the Me 109s of JG 51, 52 and 54. The German formation was
detected by radar as it assembled over Belgium and northern France, and as it
headed across the Channel 11 RAF fighter squadrons – about 130 Spitfires and
Hurricanes – were scrambled. Such was the diversity of the incoming raid plots,
however, that the fighters were shuttled to and fro by the sector controllers
with no real co-ordination. For example, the Hurricanes of No. 17 Squadron were
patrolling the Thames Estuary when they received an urgent recall to their base
at Martlesham Heath, north of Harwich. While still a long distance away the
pilots could see columns of smoke rising from Martlesham, and when they arrived
overhead they found that the airfield had been badly hit. Unnoticed and without
any opposition, Erprobungsgruppe 210’s 24 bomb-carrying Messerschmitts had
slipped in at low level, bombed, and got clear before anyone had a chance to
fire a shot. It was 36 hours before the field could be made serviceable once
more. Meanwhile, the Dorniers of KG 3 had split into two waves, one heading for
Eastchurch and the other for Rochester. At the latter target their bombs caused
severe damage to the Short aircraft factory, setting back production of the
Stirling bomber by several months.
So far, Kesselring’s Luftflotte 2 had been attacking across
the Straits of Dover. Now it was the turn of Sperrle’s Luftflotte 3; 120 miles
(190km) to the south-west, his units were forming up over their airfields. At
1645 the Junkers 88s of LG 1 began taking off from Orleans, followed 15 minutes
later by the Ju 87s of StG 1 from Cherbourg. The bombers rendezvoused with the
Me 109s of JG 26 and JG 53 and the Me 110s of ZG 2, and the whole armada of
more than 200 aircraft set course for the English coast.
The Germans, however, had thrown away their tactical
advantage. The time elapsing between the raids had enabled Park and Brand to
take adequate counter-measures, and to meet the attackers they were able to put
up 14 fighter squadrons – a total of 170 aircraft, the biggest number of
fighters the RAF had so far committed to the battle at any one time.
The Spitfires and Hurricanes met the bombers over the coast
and concentrated on the Ju 88s, destroying nine of them in a matter of minutes
and breaking up the enemy formation. Of the 15 aircraft of II/LG 1, only three
managed to break through to their target, the Fleet Air Arm base at Worthy
Down, north-east of Southampton. The others jettisoned their bombs and turned
for home, under continual attack. II/LG 1 lost two Ju 88s, and IV/LG 1 three
aircraft out of seven. I/LG 1 was more fortunate. Its 12 Ju 88s had been the
first to cross the coast, and had managed to achieve an element of surprise.
They dived on Middle Wallop, just a fraction too late to catch two fighter
squadrons on the ground. The last Spitfires of No. 609 Squadron were just
taking off when the bombs exploded among the hangars. It was the third raid on
Middle Wallop in three days. During the attack the German pilots had the
impression that they were bombing Andover; apparently they still did not know
that Middle Wallop was a much more important sector station.
The fact that the Ju 88s bore the brunt of the RAF fighter
attacks probably saved the vulnerable Ju 87 Stukas from a severe mauling. Even
so, six were shot down. But it was the Messerschmitt 110 that suffered the
worst attrition of the day. While I and III/ZG 76 had been detached to escort
the northern attacks, losing eight of their number, the Geschwader’s other
units had been operating in support of the cross-Channel operations, during
which they lost 12 aircraft. Together with the destruction of an aircraft of ZG
2 over the Channel, this brought Me 110 losses during the morning and afternoon
to 21 aircraft, and the day was by no means over.
At 1830 hours, 15 Me 110s and eight Me 109s of
Erprobungsgruppe 210 set out over the Channel, escorted by the Me 109s of JG
52. Their target was Kenley, south of London, but they made a navigational
error and bombed Croydon by mistake, destroying 40 training aircraft, killing 68
people and injuring 192, mostly civilians. As they were carrying out their
attack they were intercepted by the Hurricanes of Nos. 32 and 111 Squadrons and
four Me 110s were quickly shot down. The remainder ran for the Channel, but
near the coast they were attacked by the Spitfires of No. 66 Squadron and two
more were destroyed, together with an Me 109.
As night fell on 15 August, both sides retired to lick their
wounds and assess their losses and victories. The Luftwaffe had flown 1,270
fighter and 250 bomber sorties during the day, and the Germans had lost 71
aircraft, mostly bombers and Me 110s. The RAF’s loss was 31.
On 16 August the Luftwaffe returned in force and struck at
Brize Norton, Manston, West Mailing, Tangmere, Gosport, Lee-on-Solent,
Farnborough and Harwell. Forty-six training aircraft were destroyed at Brize
Norton, and the radar station at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight was bombed once
more. In the afternoon the weather clamped down again, and although Luftflotte
2 sent out a force of bombers to attack the fighter airfields of Debden,
Duxford, North Weald and Hornchurch the raiders were forced to turn back,
unable to find their targets under a thick blanket of cloud. Despite the
sporadic nature of the fighting, air combats during the day cost the Luftwaffe
44 aircraft and the RAF 22. It was on this day that Flight Lieutenant J.B.
Nicholson of No. 249 Squadron, patrolling near Southampton in a Hurricane, was
attacked by a Me 110. Cannon shells wounded Nicholson in the leg and eye and
set his aircraft on fire, yet he remained in the blazing cockpit and managed to
shoot down his attacker before baling out, severely burned. He was awarded the
Victoria Cross, the only one to be won by RAF Fighter Command.
On Sunday 18 August, following another spell of bad weather,
the Germans launched a series of heavy attacks on the sector stations of Kenley
and Biggin Hill. These attacks were carried out mainly by the Dornier 17s of KG
76, which, despite their fighter escort, suffered heavily, losing six aircraft
with several more damaged. Two Ju 88s operating with KG 76 (the Geschwader was
in the process of re-equipping with the new type) were also destroyed. The most
fearful German loss of the day, however, was sustained by the Ju 87 Stukas of
StG 77, which set out to attack the airfields at Ford, Gosport and Thorney
Island, together with the radar site at Poley on the south coast. They were
intercepted by the Hurricanes of No. 43 Squadron and the Spitfires of No. 152,
which destroyed no fewer than 18 of the dive-bombers and damaged five more. It
was the last time that the Stuka appeared in British skies.
StG 77 was not the only Luftwaffe formation to suffer
heavily that day: ZG 26, flying escort missions, lost 15 Me 110s to RAF
fighters, while the single-engined fighter Geschwader lost 16 Me 109s between
them. KG 53, attacking North Weald, lost four Heinkel 111s. The total Luftwaffe
loss for 18 August was 66 aircraft; the RAF lost 35 fighters.
From 19 to 23 August inclusive, air action was confined to
skirmishing as both sides rested and regrouped. During this period the
Luftwaffe lost 27 aircraft, the RAF 11 fighters. 23 August saw the radar
station at Ventnor back in operation again. The weather continued to improve
steadily, and the Luftwaffe resumed its attacks on RAF ground installations.
The next day, 24 August, North Weald was heavily bombed, together with
Hornchurch, Manston and Portsmouth naval base. By noon Manston had ceased to
function, although Hornchurch escaped with relatively light damage. The
airfield attacks cost the Germans seven Ju 88s and four He 111s. In all, the
Luftwaffe lost 30 aircraft during the day, and Fighter Command 20. Among the
latter were four Boulton Paul Defiants of No. 264 Squadron, shot down during an
engagement over the Channel. Three more Defiants were damaged.
That night, during attacks on targets in the London area,
some bomber crews made a navigational error and dropped bombs on London itself
– an act that was to have a far-reaching effect on the future conduct of the
battle. On the night of 25/26 August, following a day that had seen heavy
German raids on Portland, Weymouth, Warmwell and Dover, RAF Bomber Command
attacked Berlin for the first time, aiming at industrial targets in the city by
way of reprisal for the previous night’s raid on London. The attack was
hampered by thick cloud. Of the 81 aircraft despatched (Wellingtons, Whitleys
and Hampdens of Nos. 3, 4 and 5 Groups) 29 claimed to have bombed Berlin. Six
aircraft, all Hampdens, failed to return; three ditched in the sea and their
crews were rescued.
From 1100 on 26 August, fighters of No. 11 Group fought a
running battle between Canterbury and Maidstone with 50 bombers escorted by 80
fighters. In this action, No. 616 Squadron lost five out of 12 Spitfires, No.
264 Squadron lost three more Defiants, and No. 1 (Canadian) Squadron three
Hurricanes, but an attempted raid on Biggin Hill was broken up. All available
squadrons were committed to intercept a further attack by 40 Dornier 17s of KG
2 and KG 3 on Debden and Hornchurch airfields, escorted by 120 fighters; the
latter were compelled to withdraw through lack of fuel and the bombers suffered
heavily, 11 Dorniers being shot down. A third major attack, by 50 Heinkel 111s
of KG 55 escorted by 107 fighters, was intercepted by three RAF squadrons and
four bombers were destroyed. The Luftwaffe’s total losses on this day added up
to 34 aircraft, and KG 3 had suffered so much attrition that it took no further
part in the battle for three weeks.
But the RAF had also suffered heavily, losing 28 fighters
and 16 pilots, RAF Fighter Command was now under immense strain, and it was a
relief when the weather closed in again on 27 August, bringing a brief respite.
There were scattered combats between Fighter Command and the Luftwaffe, but
most were interceptions of reconnaissance aircraft. The Germans lost two
Dornier 17s and a Heinkel 111 over the British Isles, the latter shot down by
anti-aircraft during the night raid on Coventry. The RAF lost one Spitfire
through enemy action.
Luftwaffe attacks resumed on 28 August, two heavily-escorted
bomber formations crossing the Kent coast soon after 0900. Eastchurch airfield
was badly damaged. During the morning’s action the luckless No. 264 Squadron
lost three more Defiants, with another three damaged, which brought its losses in
three operational sorties to 12 aircraft and 14 aircrew. After this, the
Defiant was withdrawn from daylight operations. Later in the day, Rochford was
damaged in an attack by 30 Dorniers. Fighter Command accounted for 26 enemy
aircraft during the day for the loss of 15 of its fighters, one of which was
shot down by friendly fire, and on the following day, when the Germans launched
700 fighter sorties over southern England in an attempt to draw Fighter Command
into battle, the score was 12 German aircraft against nine British.
The refusal of Fighter Command to be drawn into action on 29
August encouraged the Germans in the belief that they were well on the way to
achieving air supremacy, but although the fighter defences were seriously
weakened, they were not worn down nor compelled to withdraw on any large scale
from their forward airfields in southern England. The Luftwaffe was still a
long way from attaining its primary objective, which was to put Fighter Command
out of action in the potential invasion area. Meanwhile, Luftflotte 3 had
switched to night bombing on the night of 28/29 August, launching 340 sorties
against Merseyside and targets on the south coast. These attacks brought the
total number of night sorties mounted against the British Isles so far to 600,
during which the Luftwaffe had lost only seven aircraft. It seemed a far more
attractive option than the costly daylight raids.
By day, the Germans continued to attack the RAF airfields
lying in a defensive semi-circle before London: Kenley, Redhill, Biggin Hill,
West Mailing, Detling, Manston and Gravesend to the south-east, and to the
north-east Hornchurch, Rochford, Debden and North Weald. On 30 August Biggin
Hill was completely wrecked, with 65 personnel killed and wounded, and on the
following afternoon this target was hit again.
Despite the damage to the air defences, the oft-quoted
thesis that the British fighter defences would have broken down if German air
attacks on fighter installations had continued for 14 days longer than they
actually did, exaggerates the effects of the German bombing attacks and
disregards the overall potential available on either side. As a last resort,
Fighter Command could have withdrawn its units from airfields in the
southeastern coastal area to bases out of range of German single-engined
fighters, or No. 11 Group’s fighters could have been reinforced by the fighters
of the other three groups. In either case, the Germans would never have
achieved numerical fighter superiority over the southern coastal area because
of a simple arithmetical fact: fighter production in Britain was more than
double that of Germany.
In fact, the crisis facing Fighter Command as September
opened revolved around a shortage of aircrew, rather than a shortage of
aircraft. The Command had lost about 300 pilots in the Battle of France, and
was still short of 130 pilots at the beginning of August. During that month
losses exceeded replacements, the deficit growing to 181. Had the battle not
taken place over British soil, the situation might have become critical. From
19 August to 6 September Fighter Command suffered a total loss of 290 aircraft
and 103 pilots, while the Luftwaffe, whose aircraft did not go down over
friendly territory when hit, lost 375 aircraft and 678 aircrew.
There was no doubt that the strain, and the growing number
of relatively inexperienced aircrew being committed to the battle – some with
as little as 20 hours’ experience on Spitfires or Hurricanes – was beginning to
tell on Fighter Command during the last days of August and into September, as
the deficit between British and German losses narrowed. To make matters more
difficult, the Germans were tightening up their fighter escort procedure. On 1
September, when the Heinkels of KG 1 attacked the docks at Tilbury, its 18
bombers were escorted by three Jagdgeschwader – roughly four fighters to every
bomber. All the German aircraft returned to base, having been virtually
unmolested by the RAF. The day’s operations cost the RAF 15 fighters, including
four Hurricanes of No. 85 Squadron, against the Luftwaffe’s nine. The losses
contrasted sharply with those sustained during a series of savage air battles
on 31 August, when the RAF lost 24 aircraft and the Luftwaffe 28.
The scores were again close on 2 September, when several airfields,
including Biggin Hill, Lympne, Detling, Eastchurch (three times), Hornchurch
(twice) and Gravesend were heavily attacked, together with the aircraft factory
at Rochester and Brooklands aerodrome, adjacent to the vital Hawker and Vickers
factories. Fighter Command maintained standing patrols over its sector
airfields during the day and lost 23 aircraft against the Luftwaffe’s 26, seven
of which were Messerschmitt 110s.
On 3 September the airfield attacks continued, North Weald
being very severely damaged, and in the day’s fighting the RAF and Luftwaffe
each lost 16 aircraft. Meanwhile, across the Channel, events were taking a new
and dramatic turn.
That morning, Reichsmarschall Göring summoned his
Luftflotten commanders, Kesselring and Sperrle, to a conference at The Hague.
The main item on the agenda was the feasibility of a ‘reprisal’ attack on
London; the Luftwaffe Operations Staff had ordered Luftflotten 2 and 3 to
prepare such an attack on 31 August, even though there still existed ab order
from Adolf Hitler forbidding bombing raids on the capital.
A lack of documentary evidence makes it hard to reconstruct
the process leading to the decision to attack London. Hitler’s desire for
reprisals following RAF attacks on Berlin, themselves a consequence of the
erroneous raid on London in August, certainly played its part, but this is not
the whole of the story. Bombing attacks on targets in the London area had been
at the core of a plan originated by II Fliegerkorps before the start of the air
offensive, the idea being to wear down the British fighters by bringing them to
battle over the city, which was within the range of German single-engined
fighters. That was one valid reason for attacking the city, although it hinged
on another, far less valid one. This was the belief of Luftwaffe Intelligence
that Fighter Command only had between 150 and 300 aircraft left early in
September, so that the final blow could be delivered to it over London. The
head of Luftwaffe Intelligence, Oberst Josef Schmidt, had arrived at this
conclusion by simply deducting the wildly exaggerated figures of German combat
claims from the originally assumed British fighter strength, at the same time
underestimating British fighter production. It was one of the most incredible
misconceptions of wartime German intelligence, and yet it was supported by both
Göring and Kesselring. It was not supported by Feldmarschall Hugo Sperrle of
Luftflotte 3, nor by Luftwaffe Signals Intelligence, which had compiled far
more accurate figures for Fighter Command’s strength.
On 4 September, Hitler declared in public that he now wanted
to ‘erase’ British cities, and on the following day he gave the order to attack
London and other major cities by day and night. The assault on London was to
begin in the afternoon of 7 September, and was to be directed mainly against
the docks. The city was to be attacked by Luftflotte 2 by day and Luftflotte 3
by night. Simultaneous attacks were to be conducted against armament factories
and port installations. Thirty aircraft and armament factories were selected,
and attacks on these began on 4 September, in parallel with continuing raids on
Fighter Command’s airfields. But from now on, London was the key target, and on
that decision rested the outcome of the Battle of Britain.
While the young pilots of Dowding’s Fighter Command fought
and died over the Channel and the harvest-fields of southern England, RAF
Bomber Command had been waging its own war against the enemy in the Channel and
North Sea areas. On 13 July 1940, Bomber Command switched a major part of its
efforts to the German invasion preparations in the ports, anchorages and
harbours stretching from Delfzijl in the north of Holland to Bordeaux in
south-west France. These ports were to be attacked frequently during the four
years that were to pass before the Allied invasion of Europe, but the most
intensive phase of the air offensive against them – the ‘battle of the Barges’,
directed against the armada of small craft assembled by the Germans for the
thrust across the Channel – lasted until the end of October 1940.
Aircraft of every Bomber Command Group, as well as Coastal
Command and the Fleet Air Arm, took part in this nightly offensive, the
importance of which has to a great extent been eclipsed by the massive air battle
that dragged its vapour trails over the skies of southern England during that
long summer. But the Battle of Britain was, in the broad sense, a victory for
the British bombers too; for although the Hurricanes and Spitfires of Fighter
Command denied the Germans the air superiority necessary for a successful
invasion, the attacks mounted on the invasion ports were so effective that,
even if the Luftwaffe had succeeded in obtaining temporary mastery of the air
over southern England, Hitler’s invasion fleet would have been in no position
to sail on the planned date.
This was clearly substantiated by the Germans themselves on
several occasions. On 12 September, for example, only three days before
Operation Sealion was scheduled to take place, HQ Navy Group West sent the
following signal to Berlin:
Interruptions caused by the enemy air forces, long-range
artillery and light naval forces have, for the first time, assumed major
significance. The harbours at Ostend, Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne cannot be
used as night anchorages for shipping because of the danger of English bombing
and shelling. Units of the British fleet are now able to operate almost
unmolested in the Channel. Owing to these difficulties further delays are
expected in the assembly of the invasion fleet.
With the invasion thought to be imminent, Bomber Command
launched a maximum effort offensive against the enemy-held ports. On the night
of 13/14 September the bombers sank 80 barges in Ostend harbour, and the
following night severe damage was inflicted on concentrations of enemy craft at
Boulogne. This raid was carried out by the Fairey Battles of the newly-formed
Nos. 301 and 305 (Polish) Squadrons, flying their first operational mission.
The Battles of Nos. 12, 103, 142 and 150 Squadrons – at full strength again
after the losses they had suffered in France – also carried out attacks on the
enemy ports during this period. It was the Battle’s swan-song as a first-line
aircraft; in October it was withdrawn from operations and replaced by Wellingtons
On 14 September, Hitler issued a Supreme Command Directive
postponing the launch of Operation Sealion until 17 September. On the morning
of the 16th, however, the German Naval War Staff once again reported that the
invasion ports had been subjected to heavy bombing:
In Antwerp considerable casualties have been inflicted on
transports. Five transport steamers in the port have been heavily damaged; one
barge has been sunk, two cranes destroyed, an ammunition train has blown up,
and several sheds are burning.
There was worse to come. On the night of 16/17 September,
only hours before the crucial German Supreme Command conference that was to
decide whether or not the invasion would take place, a force of Blenheims and
Battles surprised a strong concentration of enemy landing craft in the open sea
off Boulogne. Several barges and two transports were sunk, with heavy loss of
life. The vessels had been engaged in an invasion training exercise. German
bodies, washed up on the English Channel coast later, gave rise to rumours that
an invasion had actually been attempted.
On that same night the RAF also struck at the whole coastal
area between Antwerp and Le Havre, and this prompted the German Naval Staff to
report the following day that:
The RAF are still by no means defeated; on the contrary,
they are showing increasing activity in their attacks on the Channel ports and
in their mounting interference with the assembly movements.
This statement was underlined by Bomber Command on the night
of 17/18 September when, in full moonlight conditions, every available aircraft
pounded the Channel ports and caused the worst damage so far to the invasion
fleet. Eighty-four barges were sunk or damaged at Dunkirk alone, while
elsewhere a large ammunition dump was blown up, a supply depot burned out and
several steamers and MTBs sunk. The next day, the Naval Staff report made
The very severe bombing, together with bombardment by
naval guns across the Channel, makes it necessary to disperse the naval and
transport vessels already concentrated on the Channel and to stop further
movement of shipping to the invasion ports. Otherwise, with energetic enemy
action such casualties will occur in the course of time that the execution of
the operation on the scale previously envisaged will in any case be
On 19 September, four days after the great air battle over
London and southern England that would henceforth be marked as Battle of
Britain Day, and which cost the Luftwaffe 56 aircraft, Hitler ordered the
invasion fleet assembled in the Channel ports to be dispersed so that ‘the loss
of shipping space caused by enemy air attacks may be reduced to a minimum.’
Operation Sealion had been postponed indefinitely, and Hitler’s preoccupation
now was with the projected attack on the Soviet Union.
Between 15 July and 21 September, according to German naval
sources, the British air offensive sank or damaged 21 transports and 214 barges
in the Channel ports, about 12 per cent of the total invasion fleet. These
figures should be treated with some reservation, as even at this stage of the
war the Germans were in the habit of playing down their actual losses in
confidential reports to the Supreme Command. The actual loss, in terms of both
men and material, was probably higher, but even the figure of 12 per cent is
sufficient testimony that the bombing effort during those crucial weeks was far
Nevertheless, the effectiveness of the effort against the
Channel ports was grossly under-estimated by the War Cabinet. Churchill in
particular expressed disappointment at the results of the attacks, as revealed
by air reconnaissance, in a minute to the Air Minister, Sir Archibald Sinclair,
on 23 September:
What struck me about these [reconnaissance] photographs
was the apparent inability of the bombers to hit very large masses of barges. I
should have thought that sticks of explosive bombs thrown along these oblongs
would have wrought havoc, and it is very disappointing to see that they all
remained intact and in order, with just a few apparently damaged at the
Churchill did not take into account the fact that many of
the barges, although apparently intact, had been made unseaworthy by damage
that the photographs did not show. The bomber crews who were over the ports
night after night knew that they were sinking the barges faster than anyone had
thought possible. The only question in their minds was whether they were
sinking them fast enough to thwart the invasion if Fighter Command were
The ports were easy to find, but they were not an easy
target. Light flak was plentiful and losses were heavy. The anti-aircraft
defences were particularly strong around Antwerp, and it was while attacking
this target on the night of 15/16 September 1940, that Sergeant John Hannah,
one of the crew of a Hampden of No. 83 Squadron, carried out an act of great
courage that won him the Victoria Cross. The citation tells the story.
On the night of 15 September 1940, Sergeant Hannah was the
wireless operator/air gunner in an aircraft engaged in a successful attack on
an enemy barge concentration at Antwerp. It was then subjected to intense
anti-aircraft fire and received a direct hit from a projectile of an explosive
and incendiary nature, which apparently burst inside the bomb compartment. A
fire started which quickly enveloped the wireless operator’s and rear gunner’s
cockpits, and as both the port and starboard petrol tanks had been pierced
there was a grave risk of fire spreading. Sergeant Hannah forced his way
through to obtain two extinguishers and discovered that the rear gunner had had
to leave the aircraft. He could have acted likewise, through the bottom escape
hatch or forward through the navigator’s hatch, but remained and fought the
fire for ten minutes with the extinguishers, beating the flames with his log
book when these were empty.
During this time thousands of rounds of ammunition exploded
in all directions and he was almost blinded by the intense heat and fumes, but
had the presence of mind to obtain relief by turning on his oxygen supply. Air
admitted through the large holes caused by the projectile made the bomb
compartment an inferno and all the aluminium sheet metal on the floor of this
airman’s cockpit was melted away, leaving only the cross bearers. Working under
these conditions, which caused burns to his face and eyes, Sergeant Hannah
succeeded in extinguishing the fire. He then crawled forward, ascertained that
the navigator had left the aircraft, and passed the latter’s log and maps to
This airman displayed courage, coolness and devotion to duty
of the highest order and by his action in remaining and successfully
extinguishing the fire under conditions of the greatest danger and difficulty,
enabled the pilot to bring the aircraft to its base.
The Royal Air Force was not alone in its campaign against
the German invasion forces that were assembled mainly in the ports of Dunkirk,
Ostend, Calais and Boulogne. Whenever possible, even though operating
conditions in the Channel had become very difficult because of air attack, the
Royal Navy took the opportunity to strike at shipping movements off the enemy
coast. On 8 September 1940, for example, three motor torpedo boats, MTB 14, MTB
15 and MTB 17, set out from Dover to attack a German convoy of about 30 small
vessels approaching Ostend. Two of the boats, MTBs 15 and 17, entered Ostend
harbour under cover of darkness and an RAF air raid and launched their
torpedoes, hitting two vessels. Exactly what they hit was never established,
but it was the first successful MTB torpedo attack of the war.
On the night of 10/11 September, a striking force comprising
the destroyers Malcolm, Veteran and Wild Swan set out to patrol the Channel off
Ostend, which was again under air attack, when radar contact was made with an
enemy convoy. Soon afterwards, the destroyers made visual contact with the
enemy, aided by the light of flares dropped by the RAF, and opened fire,
sinking an escort vessel, two trawlers that were towing barges, and a large
Offensive sweeps of this kind were a regular feature during
September 1940, when the threat of invasion was at its height, the naval forces
usually operating from Harwich or Portsmouth; the Dover destroyer force had
been dispersed, having suffered substantial damage through air attack. At the
same time, aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm, operating from bases in south-east
England, joined the RAF in maintaining pressure on the enemy invasion ports.
The biggest guns the Navy could bring to bear on the enemy
coast were mounted in two warships of World War I vintage, the battleship
Revenge and the monitor Erebus. Both mounted 15-inch guns, the Erebus being
fitted with a twin turret bearing her main armament and also with four twin 4
inch and two single 3 inch AA guns. She carried a crew of 300. On 20 September
she set out from Sheerness to bombard the German gun battery at Cap Gris Nez,
but the sortie had to be abandoned because of bad weather. On 30 September,
however, she fired 17 rounds into a concentration of invasion craft in the
Calais docks area, the fire being directed by a Fairey Swordfish spotter
aircraft. On the following day, the German battery at Wissant fired precisely
the same number of rounds at Dover by way of retaliation.
On 10 October it was the turn of HMS Revenge, the old
battleship – armed with eight 15-inch guns – sailing from Plymouth with a
screen of 5th Flotilla destroyers: Jackal, Kipling, Jupiter, Jaguar, Kashmir
and Kelvin. The cruisers Newcastle and Emerald were also at sea, protecting the
western flank, while a flotilla of six MTBs sailed from Portland to provide a
screen against S-boats. Revenge’s target was Cherbourg, and for 18 minutes,
beginning at 0333 on 11 October she laid a barrage of 120 15-inch shells across
the crowded harbour, to which was added a total of 801 4.7 inch shells from the
seven escorting destroyers. The resulting conflagration could be seen 40 miles
(64km) out to sea. The British force reached Spithead at 0800 without damage,
despite being shelled for the best part of 10 miles (16km) by a German heavy
On 16 October HMS Erebus, escorted by the destroyers Garth
and Walpole, again bombarded the French coast in the vicinity of Calais with
the aid of spotter aircraft. Forty-five salvoes were fired, beginning at 0100,
before the British force withdrew. Neither Erebus nor Revenge made any further
sorties of this kind, even though the British heavy gun defences on the Channel
coast in October were still pitifully weak. The pre-war heavy gun strength on
the Straits of Dover, comprising two 9.2 inch and six 6 inch guns, had been reinforced
during the summer by one 14 inch, two 6 inch and two 4 inch guns, all Naval
weapons, together with a pair of 9.2 inch guns on railway mountings; and in
October these were further reinforced by two 18.5 inch guns from the old depot
ship Iron Duke, also on railway mountings, and a battery of four 5.5 inch guns
from HMS Hood. Further heavy gun batteries, at Fan Bay, South Foreland and
Wanstone, would not become operational until a much later date, by which time
the invasion threat had passed.
While the British strove to disrupt enemy invasion plans,
German destroyers were extremely active in the Channel area during September
and October 1940, laying minefields to protect the flanks of their projected
cross-Channel invasion routes and also making hit-and-run sorties against
British shipping. One particularly successful sortie was undertaken on the
night of 11/12 October by the German 5th Flotilla from Cherbourg, comprising
the destroyers Greif, Kondor, Falke, Seeadler and Wolf. They sank the armed
trawlers Listrac and Warwick Deeping with gunfire and torpedoes, and shortly
afterwards destroyed the Free French submarine chasers CH6 and CH7, manned by
mixed French and Polish crews. The German ships withdrew safely; although they
were engaged by the British destroyers Jackal, Jaguar, Jupiter, Kelvin and
Kipling, the latter achieved nothing more spectacular than several near misses.
Another inconclusive action was fought between British destroyers of the 5th
Flotilla, supported by the light cruisers Newcastle and Emerald, and enemy
destroyers off Brest on 17 October, with no damage suffered by either side. The
British warships came under air attack during the operation, the most serious
threat coming from a flight of very determined RAF Blenheims whose crews had clearly
not been trained in warship recognition!
November 1940 saw a resurgence of air attacks on British
shipping by Junkers Ju 87 Stukas, which had been standing by at their airfields
in the Pas de Calais to lend tactical support to Operation Sealion, now
postponed. Their area of operations was the Thames estuary, where British
convoys were assembling, and between 1 and 11 November they sank one merchant
vessel and damaged six more. On 14 November they attacked targets in the Dover
area, destroying a drifter and damaging three more vessels, but these missions
marked the Stuka’s swansong over the British Isles.
There was a further destroyer action on 27/28 November 1940,
when the British 5th Destroyer Flotilla intercepted an enemy flotilla from
Brest. In the ensuing engagement the destroyer HMS Javelin was hit by two torpedoes,
which blew off her bows and stern and detonated the ammunition in her magazine,
destroying her superstructure as well as killing three officers and 43 ratings.
Amazingly, she remained afloat and was towed into harbour, to spend 13 months
in dock being virtually rebuilt. She eventually returned to operations and went
on to survive the war.
Notwithstanding actions such as these, it was enemy mines
that accounted for the highest proportion of British shipping losses in the
closing months of 1940. Of the 42 Royal Navy vessels lost in the Channel area
between 1 September 1940 and the end of the year, 28 were sunk by mines.
The threat of invasion had receded, and Hitler’s eyes, by
the end of 1940, were turned towards the east. But the question must be asked
whether Operation Sealion might have succeeded, had it gone ahead. All the
accumulated evidence suggests that it would not. The matter is summed up
admirably by the official Royal Navy historian:
We who lived through those anxious days may reasonably
regret that the expedition never sailed for, had it done so, it is virtually
certain that it would have resulted in a British victory comparable for its
decisiveness to Barfleur or Quiberon Bay; and it can hardly be doubted that
such a victory would have altered the entire course of the war. It is indeed
plain today that, of all the factors which contributed to the failure of
Hitler’s grandiose invasion plans, none was greater than the lack of adequate
instruments of sea power and of a proper understanding of their use on the
German side. Britain, on the other hand, not only possessed the necessary ships
and craft, but they were manned by devoted crews who were imbued with a
traditional and burning desire to come to grips with the enemy invasion fleet.
Finally, we may remark how the events of the summer of 1940 emphasised once
again what many other would-be conquerors of Britain had learnt in turn –
namely, that an overseas expedition cannot be launched with any prospect of
success without first defeating the other side’s maritime forces, and so
gaining control of the waters across which the expedition has to pass.
In conflict with a centuries-old maritime power, there is
little doubt that Hitler, had he launched his invasion, would have learnt too
late the landsman’s lesson.