Operation Bolton

A Tornado GR1 equipped with a TIALD pod extends its airbrakes during an Operation Bolton sortie.

Since the end of the Gulf War the UN had been monitoring Iraq’s compliance with UN directives on biological and chemical warfare. The work of a team of inspectors established by the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) had largely been unnoticed by the media, but they were thrown into the limelight during late 1997 when the Iraqis stopped co-operating with UNSCOM. As part of the diplomatic response to Iraq, the UK initiated Operation Bolton in October to reinforce British presence in the region. The Saudis were unwilling to allow offensive operations to be carried out from their territory, so initially Operation Bolton comprised the deployment of HMS Invincible, augmented by the Harrier GR.7s of 1 Squadron, to the Persian Gulf. They arrived in theatre in late January. However, in the meantime the Kuwaitis had expressed a willingness to host combat aircraft and on Friday 6 February, just three months after completing their previous operational tour, 14 Squadron at Brüggen was given 48hrs notice to return to the Middle East. Crews were immediately recalled from leave and detachments. ‘I was skiing in Val d’Isere,’ recalls Flt Lt S.E. Reeves, ‘when I got a call saying “come on back” so I had to hire a car and drive back to Brüggen.’ The squadron also had crews taking part in the night Tactical Leadership Training (TLT) exercise at Leuchars: ‘the TLT staff came and instructed the two 14 Squadron crews to return to Brüggen immediately’ recalled Flt Lt K.R. Rumens. ‘At the time we had absolutely no idea why. The next day back at Brüggen the Boss briefed all of the 14 Squadron aircrew and engineers and informed us that first thing Monday morning we would be taking nine Tornado GR1s out to a base in Kuwait. We were to get ready for war immediately.’

An advance party of engineers was despatched to get the airfield ready for operations. As he disembarked from the aircraft, Ch Tech Spanswick was reminded of the disparaging comments he had made a few months beforehand when he had first seen Al Kharj. ‘We arrived at Ali Al Salem at about 04:00hrs with thunderstorms all round, and in the darkness we could just make out collapsed tents and rivers of mud and waterlogged sand everywhere. I said “Finchy, do you remember what I said when we arrived in Al Kharj… well it just has got worse” In my opinion Ali Al Salem was a unique deployment: to my knowledge it was the first time an RAF Tornado squadron had deployed, completely on its own (with no support from any other squadron and certainly no help form the Americans) to a bare-based operating location, especially being so close to the Iraqi border. It was quite scary, as we had no idea what was going to happen, no idea how long it was going to last, nor when we would get home. All we knew was that we had twenty-four hours to get the place up and running to accept thirteen Tornados being deployed from UK and Brüggen. A couple of years earlier I had driven past Ali Al Salem when going to a Kuwait bombing range and saw the devastation of the base with bombed out HASs and building et cetera. However, it was all extremely exciting in a very nervous way and we pulled together as a complete squadron. Twenty-four hours later, the runway was clear and we had sorted out the aprons in front of the HASs to accept the aircraft. It was quite an awesome sight to see thirteen Tornados taxi in, in pitch-black conditions at a bombed out airfield in the middle of the Kuwait desert. And on top of that it was only a few hours later the jets were ready for their first mission over Iraq. And so on a diet of boiled rice and boiled chicken our adventures began… again.’

Back at Brüggen the whole station worked over the weekend to get the aircraft ready and on 9 February 1998, nine Tornados left Brüggen heading for Kuwait. A further four aircraft deployed directly from the UK. Ali Al Salem Air Base, which lay some twenty-five miles to the west of Kuwait City, had been re-occupied by the Kuwaiti Air Force (KAF) after the Gulf War, but details about the airfield were scant. ‘As squadron QFI,’ continued Flt Lt Rumens, ‘I was tasked with briefing the squadron with what facilities the airfield had. The brief was pretty lean. We had no charts/plates, no information on radar services or approach aids. I had worked out from satellite imagery the approximate runway direction and length and it looked like concrete. In fact the only thing we knew was phoned through to us from Tom Boyle, our former Boss, who was already in theatre. Tom informed us that Kuwait City International Airport would see us into the area on their radar and then chop us to Ali Al Salem Tower for which a frequency was provided.’ After a 7½hr flight, the Tornados reached Kuwait in darkness. The runway lighting showed up well, but on taxying off the runway Flt Lt Rumens discovered that ‘there were no lights anywhere else on the airfield so we were waved off of the runway by a few engineers who had torches and we shut down and chocked nine Tornados in a tight “gaggle” on a bit of concrete just off the end of the runway. The next day in the light the engineers had to tow aircraft to the parking places.’ The airfield was still in the semi-destroyed state in which it had been left after the Gulf War.

Over the next two days, the squadron established a dispersed operating base in one of the HAS sites. Each of the large HAS had an enormous hole in the roof, thanks to the attention of Coalition aircraft during the Gulf War. Despite the holes, the shelters provided ideal storage space for engineering equipment. In one HAS the operations and engineering facilities were set up inside long tents, each of which was protected with sandbags. Initially the aircraft were parked in the open outside the shelters but later on, as the temperatures rose, light-weight canopies were constructed to protect airframes, engineers and aircrew from the sun. Weapons were delivered to Ali Al Salem and the TIALD pods being used by 17 Squadron for Operation Jural were flown in from Al Kharj. Forty-eight hours after arriving in Kuwait, 14 Squadron declared itself ready for operations.

In the end, the Tornados were not required for attack operations. Diplomatic initiatives had quickly defused the crisis and a new agreement between Iraq and UNSCOM was signed on 17 February. However the squadron remained in Ali Al Salem for the next three months to fly Jural-type sorties in the southern NFZ. Within each pair of aircraft, the leader would be TIALD-equipped and also be loaded with two Paveway II LGBs; his wingmen would carry the Vicon pod. Flying continued around the clock and most crews flew a mixture of day and night missions. When compared to Dhahran or Al Kharj, Ali Al Salem was much close to Iraq, resulting in much reduced transit times to Iraqi airspace: sortie times were therefore shorter than on previous detachments, typically being around 2hr. As previously, Coalition aircraft took the opportunity of being in Iraqi airspace to carry out practice attacks on military installations and on occasions the Tornados were partnered with Harrier GR.7 aircraft from 1 Squadron which were now operating ashore from Ahmed Al Jabbar south of Kuwait City.

Between the operational sorties there was an opportunity for some training, low-flying in Kuwait and using the ranges at Al Abraq and Udari. There were also Air-Combat Training sorties as well as fighter affiliation training with KAF F-18 Hornets and more combined training sorties with the Harriers.

Operation Bolton had replaced Operation Jural and now included all RAF operations in the southern NFZ. Thus when 12 Squadron took over responsibility for the Kuwait detachment in early May, the Tornado GR1 force was supporting three simultaneous operational detachments: six aircraft remained at Incirlik for Operation Warden, and six more were at Al Kharj with a further twelve at Ali Al Salem for Operation Bolton. With a full calendar of training exercises and the MLU programme in full swing, the Tornado squadrons would be stretched to cover all the commitments; however responsibility for Operation Warden was returned to the Jaguar force at the end of September.

Over the summer months 617, 17 and 14 Squadrons took part in Exercise Maple Flag from CAF Cold Lake base. The exercise included aircraft from Germany, UK, New Zealand and the US as well as the Canadian hosts. Domestic exercises included a station exercise at Lossiemouth, during which aircraft were sent to Kinloss in a simulated chemical threat environment, to practise the ability to deploy at short notice.

Strategic Developments

The Strategic Defence Review (SDR), published by the British Government in July included some far-reaching developments for the Tornado GR1 force. The WE177 nuclear weapon had already been withdrawn earlier in the year, so the strike role, once the primary role of the Tornado GR1 in Cold War days, had been given up completely. The SDR also signalled the end of the maritime role for the Tornado GR1B, although 617 Squadron would complete one last JMC exercise in October. In this latter exercise the squadron took part in large antishipping packages, flying against ships from Germany, France, Netherland and the Royal Navy as they sailed around the northern coast of Scotland. The exercise alternated daily between blue water and coastal operations and the squadron mounted two daily waves each of four or five aircraft simulating Sea Eagle tactics.

The final fallout from SDR was the confirmation that RAF Brüggen would close in 2000 and that 17 Squadron would be disbanded in early 1999. ‘I had been tipped off by a mate at High Wycombe (and sworn to secrecy) that the squadron was going to go while we were at Goose Bay,’ recalled Wg Cdr Coulls, OC 17 Squadron, ‘so I was the only one who knew it was coming, although rumours had been flying for a couple of months. Jock Stirrup, at the time AOC 1 Group, came down about halfway through to tell us formally. The leadership challenge was an interesting one… we had been away from home for five of the previous six months and still had a month left in Kuwait and now a massive dose of uncertainty had been introduced. However, we got away with it and left with a good reputation.’

In September 1998, 14 Squadron resumed Operation Bolton from Ali Al Salem (AAS) Air Base. The operational pattern was much as it had been earlier in the year, except that political tension was mounting once more, after Iraq declared in August that it would not, after all, cooperate with UNSCOM. Following further diplomatic activity, on 31 October Iraq announced that it would cease all forms of interaction with UNSCOM. Even so there was very little activity below the NFZ over the next two months, making the flying over Iraq pretty dull. Apart from ‘counting flies by the thousand, interspersed with particularly uninspiring (and very definitely alcohol free) evening meals at the Kuwait Officers’ Mess,’ Flt Lt D.W. Hales thought that the ‘operational highlights were forty-five degree dive with [inert] PW II at Udairi range and a few opportunities for HE strafe at Al Abraq.’ The squadron also carried out some air-combat training and some affiliation training with the KAF F-18 Hornets. At the beginning of November, 14 Squadron handed over to 12 Squadron.

After more diplomatic manoeuvring at the UN, the Iraqis reneged on an agreement to cooperate with UNSCOM and as a result it withdrew all its personnel from Iraq on 11 November 1998. The following day, the US and the UK warned Iraq that it would face a substantial military strike if it did not return to full compliance with UN Resolutions. On 14 November, the US and the UK authorized the launch of an initial wave of strike aircraft. The Tornado crews in Kuwait had planned and briefed their mission and were just about to walk for the sortie when they were cancelled. At the last minute, Iraq had agreed to ‘unconditional resumption of cooperation’ with UNSCOM, so the planned air strikes were called off. However, Iraqi cooperation was short-lived and only a month later the political tension had escalated once more

In early November, Wg Cdr S.G. Barnes, OC 12 Squadron, had taken over as detachment commander at AAS and had ensured that a number of contingency plans were in place in case the squadron was called upon again for operations. ‘As things progressed, and the op looked more likely,’ recalled Wg Cdr Barnes, ‘the formation leaders were co-opted into the plan. Throughout, the squadron engineers were tremendous and produced the aircraft we needed for each wave. They moved equipment and weapons to satisfy the requirement for four aircraft per wave with TIALD pods (we had only four) were they could.’

RAF ground crew of 14 Squadron at Ali Al Salem (AAS) air base, Kuwait, during Operation Bolton. In the background is a battle-damaged HAS.

Desert Fox – Night One

The deadline for Iraqi compliance with the UN resolutions passed on 16 December and US and UK forces were authorized to fly airstrikes, which the US military named Operation Desert Fox. The detachment at AAS flew three operational waves early that evening. As there were just four TIALD pods available for all of the operational waves, only the leader and Number 3 within each four ship carried TIALD pods: thus within each pair one aircraft self-designated before cooperatively designating for the wingman. The first four ship was led by Wg Cdr Barnes with Flt Lt J.E. Linter with each aircraft armed with two PW II. They were tasked against the SAM-3 site near Basra (with each pair attacking a different radar system within the site) and then bombing a radio-relay site just to the north. The attack was planned so that SAM site and relay station were far enough apart for each TIALD aircraft to mark two different targets. As they neared the target area, the Tornados met with light anti-aircraft fire, but no missiles were fired at them. The lead aircraft attacked the SAM-3 site successfully, but the TIALD pod on Number 3 aircraft did not work, leaving Flt Lt Linter to use the only serviceable pod to mark both of the Desired Points of Impact (DPIs) at the radio-relay station.

Sqn Ldrs M. Royce and L. Fisher led the second wave against targets on Tallil airfield and a radio-relay station just to the north at An Nasiriyah. ‘The lead pair dropped [destroyed] a large hangar on the northern side of the airfield with three PW IIs and the back pair removed a pair of HAS on the southern side of the runway,’ wrote Flt Lt Royce later. ‘One HAS exploded quite spectacularly turning night into day for about twenty seconds; such was the force of the residual explosion.’ In the Number 4 aircraft, Fg Off A. Robins recalled that: ‘all targets were hit, including a massive secondary explosion on the HAS… a very large mushroom cloud came up to meet us… we thought we’d hit a nuke… someone said “OOH that’s gotta hurt” (a Fast Show quote) and we all sped off hurriedly in batwing and burner. I remember that nobody landed with any extra fuel that night… USN had thoughtfully loosed off some HARMs at a SAM-6 site, and there was loads of triple-A as they put up a lot of stuff against us.’ It later transpired that the hangar at Tallil had contained the ‘Drones of Death’ – Czech-built L-29 Delfin (Dolphin) training aircraft, which were being modified as remotely-piloted vehicles to carry biological weapons and the HAS had been an ammunition store. ‘Satellite imagery the following day showed scorched land and no sign of there ever having been a HAS.’ reported Flt Lt Royce.

The third four ship, led by Flt Lt J.P. Griggs and Sqn Ldr T.N. Harris, took off shortly after the first one. They were to attack a Republican Guard barracks at Al Kut and once again all aircraft were armed with two PW IIs, with only lead and Number 3 carrying TIALD pods. ‘We decided we would do a “double run” guiding our own bombs then, as soon as they impacted, switching to the target for Number 4’s bombs which were already in the air,’ reported Sqn Ldr D. Armstrong, who was flying the Number 3 aircraft. ‘In the event, this was a bad idea… not enough time to get fixed on the second target and too much pressure on our own target run knowing the bombs were already flying.’ The sortie also ended with some excitement. ‘Our leader got Roland launch warnings linked with a flash on the desert floor as we approached the Kuwaiti border on the way home,’ continued Sqn Ldr Armstrong. ‘He immediately went into his evasive manoeuvre and banged the wing tanks off. Jez said it was the longest two seconds of his life after he hit the jettison button’ As it turned out, the flash on the desert floor was caused by US Navy aircraft dropping their weapons on a ‘dump’ target, of which the RAF detachment was unaware because of communications difficulties with the USN ships; it transpired that the simultaneous Roland warning was also spurious, caused by microwave links in the desert. ‘The engineers gave Jez the bill for the tanks,’ added Armstrong.

In the meantime, six crews from 617 deployed to AAS on 17 December to support the operations. ‘We arrived just after the first trip had taken off and we awoke the next morning to the participants mooching about having faced the reality of combat’ remembered Sqn Ldr A.K.F. Pease. ‘They had had a couple of close calls with Roland launches… Jez Griggs had jettisoned tanks and taken evasive action. Those of us who deployed from 617 Squadron were not used in anger. We did some training flights in Kuwait and having deployed thinking we would be away for a couple of months we actually got home in time for Christmas which was a bonus.’

Desert Fox – Night Two

On the second night of the operation, 18 December, the Tornado waves were launched with enough time spacing between them for all aircraft could carry a TIALD pod and self-designate their own targets; in turn, this allowed a much more compressed attack. Wg Cdr Barnes led his formation against the SAM-3 site at Tallil, attacking the Low Blow and Perfect Patch radars and two HQ buildings within the complex. Once again the attackers were met with very light triple-A, but no SAMs were fired. As Wg Cdr Barnes later summarized the sortie ‘the plan “ran on rails” and all DPIs were hit successfully.’

‘Night two saw us doing a coordinated bombing run on the Republican Guard Barracks at Al Kut,’ recalled Sqn Ldr Royce, ‘with a whole bunch of US bombers and the standard SEAD and fighter escorts. The enemy sent up quite a fierce triple-A defence but no missiles (though I’m sure the EW assets had neutralized whatever they may have had to hand; I had never seen so many HARMs fired at one sitting).’ Once again, however, the difficulty in coordinating with the US Navy was illustrated when their formation ahead of the Tornados slipped back on their ToT. ‘We later calculated that their bombs were within 10sec of dropping through our formation/canopies and hitting the lead aircraft,’ reported Fg Off Robins.

The third wave carried out their attack in the early hours of 19 December. This successful mission, led by Flt Lt Griggs and Sqn Ldr Harris, was also tasked against targets in the Al Kut area.

Desert Fox – Night Three

On the third night of operations the Tornados were armed with the new PW III 2,000lb weapon. ‘DPIs were running out and I had argued (forcibly) with HQ that some of the targets were not worth risking lives over,’ recalled Wg Cdr Barnes. ‘I had proposed sending a two ship only, but we were re-allocated more sensible targets. The target area was Al Kut, close to the 32nd Parallel, and the targets were Low Blow, Perfect Patch and two HQ buildings (déjà vu). There were real problems with coordination as we couldn’t contact the ship… we didn’t get the correct detail and we ended up doing our own thing de-conflicted by height and time, but running in a clockwise direction with the rest of the package going the opposite way. There was a lot of triple-A en-route and particularly in the target area. SEAD reported some missiles fired at the package… but I did not see any. Three DPIs were hit, and Number 3 guided his weapon safely into open desert having misidentified the target. I think this was the first operational use of PW III and at the very least validated tactics and procedures with this weapon. The ground crew piped me into the shelter on return (a piper standing on top of the cab of one of the tractors) leading the aircraft to the shelter, which was very emotional.’

A second wave, led by Sqn Ldr Royce took off shortly after the first wave. This formation, tasked against bunkers and another radio-relay station just outside Basra, was also loaded with PW IIIs. However, the mission was cancelled while the formation was flying a holding pattern before they crossed the border into Iraq, and the aircraft returned to AAS with their weapons.

‘In all 12(B) Squadron dropped forty-eight PW II and four PW III accurately,’ concluded Fg Off Robins. ‘Notable moments were the US Navy trying to kill us… and a fine young navigator, Jonny Meadows, dragging a bomb off the DMPI into the desert because he wasn’t (correctly) happy with his TIALD picture. The poor navigators had to “stir the porridge” on some dreadful pre-acquisition pictures in the early-ish days of TIALD: often pictures would not bloom until very late, very tricky in the increasingly legal world of targeting.’

 

The WWI Air War over the Sea I

Although airmen’s attempts to liaise with the infantry during the war did not always achieve spectacular results, cooperative efforts between aviators and sailors proved far more impressive. At the outset of the war the British Royal Navy implemented a North Sea blockade to prevent merchant ships from reaching their destinations and keep the German surface fleet bottled up in port. The military and geopolitical effects of the blockade, though slow to show themselves, eventually proved effective, slowly bleeding Germany of resources, sapping the morale of the German people, and giving the United States a financial stake in Allied success. More narrowly, the blockade set the tone for the war at sea and for the next four years German naval activity in the Atlantic, the North Sea, the English Channel, and the air war over these waters centered on efforts to either break the blockade or, failing that, to inflict similar damage on the Allies.

Naval aviation differed significantly from its land-based counterpart in the way it interacted with the non-flying forces it supported. Military aviators regularly separated their reconnaissance missions from offensive operations, observing or photographing enemy activities that bombers or the artillery dealt with at a later time. Naval flyers similarly reported their sightings to nearby cooperating surface vessels, but the fleeting nature of floating targets frequently forced naval aviators to attack the targets they spotted immediately.

An American, Eugene Ely, demonstrated what the future held for naval aviation when he successfully flew an airplane off the deck of USS Birmingham in November 1910 and then two months later landed one on the deck of the Pennsylvania. The British created an Air Department within the Admiralty and began their own experiments in cooperation between aircraft and naval vessels in 1912, still more than two years before the beginning of the war. The duties naval aviators anticipated performing included scouting for the fleet using aircraft carried aboard ships, patrol work along the British coastline, and cooperative missions flown alongside defending flotillas and submarines. In January 1912, Lt. H. A. Williamson, a British submarine officer with an airplane pilot’s license, first proposed using aircraft to patrol against submarines. He hypothesized that, even if unable to attack, the aircraft’s presence would force a targeted submarine to stay completely submerged, thereby reducing its threat. Williamson noted the French were also experimenting with this idea. Later developments would prove Williamson’s predictions correct. Within six months early results of the British tests convinced the Royal Navy’s Submarine Committee that aircraft showed “promise of providing a valuable anti-submarine weapon.” On September 11, 1912, Capt. Murray Sueter, director of the British Royal Navy’s Air Department, submitted an aircraft development proposal to the Board of Admiralty in which he listed potential duties that included “assisting destroyers to detect and destroy submarines.” Sueter’s plan encompassed suggestions for a network of coastal air stations at various locations around the British coast, including Calshot, Dundee, Eastchurch, Felixstowe, Fort Grange, the Isle of Grain, Killingholme and Yarmouth. The Admiralty adopted Sueter’s scheme the following month and had most of the planned installations in operation prior to the outbreak of war. In response to the first successful U-boat attack on a British vessel, HMS Pathfinder, on September 2, 1914, the Navy beefed up the stations at Dundee and Killingholme. By the end of November the Navy implemented a revised plan specifically aimed at protecting the Straits of Dover, establishing bases to cover the fleet on both sides of the English Channel, in Dover, England, and on the French coast at Dunkirk. Earlier that same month the British introduced an offensive element to its air operations when a Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) seaplane took off from Dunkirk to mount the first direct air strike on a German U-boat. Though the crew succeeded in locating the U-boat their attack failed when the submarine dived to escape. After this inauspicious beginning the Dunkirk crews devoted their attention mainly to reconnaissance and bombing of the German submarine bases at Zeebrugge and Ostend.

Lighter-than-air vehicles also played a role from the beginning of British anti-submarine operations. Gas-filled airships operating over the water offered the same endurance advantage that observation balloons held in land battles allowing aircrews to remain over their patrol areas hours longer than airplanes. By the summer of 1914 the Admiralty had taken over complete control of airship development excluding the Army, and in February 1915 Sir John Fisher, the First Sea Lord, ordered the construction of the SS (Submarine Scout) airship, the first lighter-than-air type specifically dedicated to anti-submarine warfare. The Admiralty’s goal in ordering SS airships focused especially on keeping open the Straits of Dover and access to the Irish Sea. Their apprehension proved well founded. By the spring, U-boats of the Deutsche Kriegsmarine (German War Navy) appeared for the first time off the west coast of Great Britain threatening receipt of western hemisphere imports. To offer political cover for its submarine campaign, Germany declared the waters around the British Isles a war zone, seeking to prohibit the area to any and all traffic, even ships representing neutral nations. Locating submarines in time to launch preemptive attacks required more speed and broader range than two-dimensional warfare offered, making aircraft crucial to defense. Submarines might be spotted cruising on the surface—time on the surface being necessary to recharge the U-boat’s batteries—or, in clear weather and calm seas, the boat might be visible even while submerged. By the end of the year, British constructors had built twenty-nine Submarine Scouts.

The amplified threat and the shift from two- to three-dimensional warfare required a broad reorganization of the entire naval defense system in order to incorporate the aerial component. As the war neared its first anniversary, RAdm. Sydney Freemantle, head of the Admiralty’s Signals Committee, categorized reconnaissance as the airship’s primary function, adding that its “duties are to locate enemy submarines and to keep them in sight as long as possible.” Successful communications between the airships and the Navy’s destroyers were clearly essential; to guarantee the strength of that link the Admiralty established special transmission and reception stations and proposed instituting a dedicated radio wavelength. The British Coast Guard administered the wireless stations reporting to each area’s senior naval officer or the Naval Centre. In August, in order to achieve tighter liaison between aircraft observers and the surface vessels whose attacks they would facilitate, the Admiralty removed all naval air stations from operational control of the director of the Air Department and placed them under the command of the various district senior naval officers.

During 1915, the RNAS concentrated on lighter-than-air craft for anti-submarine warfare owing to the “unseaworthiness of seaplanes and the general lack of heavier-than-air equipment and personnel.” Most of the airplanes and aircrew still in England remained unavailable for anti-submarine work, reserved instead for Royal Flying Corps training facilities. Those not tied up with training duties the RFC saved for home defense missions, thus protecting a nervous British public against the threat of zeppelin attacks on military targets and cities in the British interior. This allocation of resources reflected a new strategic approach to the defense of the British homeland. During the first months of the conflict responsibility for aerial defense of the United Kingdom had rested entirely with the Admiralty. In June 1915, acting on the recommendation of War Office Director of Home Defence Gen. Launcelot E. Kiggell, the chief of the Imperial General Staff divided control of home defense responsibilities. The Royal Naval Air Service stood accountable for attackers as they crossed the English Channel, and the Army’s Royal Flying Corps took charge once raiders had penetrated the coastline. Though shedding accountability for aerial defense of the mainland should have made more naval aircraft available for the war against the U-boats, division of control between the Army and the Admiralty and the transfer of naval air station command out of the Air Department to senior naval officers later in the summer instead exacerbated competition for these resources. The situation became further complicated by an increase in reconnaissance work over the English Channel and the North Sea that prompted the British to expand their Dunkirk Air Command. During the spring of 1916 the RNAS divided the command “into three wings, one for aerial reconnaissance, photography and control of naval gunfire, one for bombing and one for aerial fighting.”

Provision of bombing and aerial combat capabilities ensured that British naval aviators did not have to rely solely on passive defensive measures to combat the submarine menace. The highly mobile nature of the war at sea meant that naval aviators did not always have time to return to base or signal for help before their target disappeared. The Dunkirk group had already demonstrated the potential value of direct interdiction by launching some of the first aircraft attacks on U-boats at sea. Early in the war the Royal Naval Air Service organized an offensive capability, hoping to hit the enemy in his lair rather than simply waiting for his ships to appear. In its first month of operations, March 1915, Dunkirk crews launched bombing attacks on Ostend, Middlekerke and Hoboken, Antwerp, claiming (inaccurately, as it turned out) one submarine destroyed and two damaged. The naval airmen organized a combined air- and seaplane force some thirty strong utilizing seaplane stations on England’s east coast and a newly developed seaplane carrier, HMS Empress, with the aim of attacking German submarine pens across the English Channel. The group carried out several missions, but did not achieve significant success.

By the end of 1915 improved German antiaircraft defenses and the relative ineffectiveness of the light bomb loads early air- and seaplanes could carry caused the RNAS to forego further heavier-than-air offensive activity. Initially, airships appeared to offer an alternative, given their more impressive carrying capacity, but ultimately lighter-than-air bombers proved no more successful in achieving measurable submarine destruction than their heavier-than-air counterparts. Consequently, British airship crews returned to concentrating on reconnaissance, searching for submarines already at sea in conjunction with surface vessels rather than attacking the U-boats in their pens.

Despite the considerable attention historians have devoted to its bombing attacks on London throughout the war, the German Naval Airship Division devoted substantially more of its resources to reconnaissance than to destruction. Of the 1,497 sorties German airship crews mounted during the conflict, 971 (65 percent) had scouting over the North Sea as their purpose, compared to the 306 missions (20 percent) flown to drop bombs on England. The rather meager £1,527,544 total damage done to England during the German airship raids offers clear evidence that airship crews flying reconnaissance missions performed potentially far more valuable services.

Throughout 1916 and into the following year the British developed the Coastal airship, a larger design capable of longer patrols, and added to the number of stations dotting the United Kingdom’s shoreline. Between January and December, the RNAS constructed new facilities at Pembroke, Pulham, Longside, Howden, Mullion, and East Fortune, and opened an airship school at Cranwell. Reconsidering its earlier decision to abandon efforts to copy Germany’s successful zeppelins, the Navy resumed construction of a project previously cancelled, Rigid Airship No. 9, and built a large storage shed to accommodate the aerial behemoth at Howden. Anticipating further additions to its rigid aerial fleet in 1917, the Admiralty built more sheds at its Pulham, Longside, and East Fortune stations, and at the Cranwell training facility. Extending its reach off the British mainland the RNAS added an SS station at Caldale, in the Orkney Islands, for work with the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow.

Despite these preparations and its early appreciation of aviation’s potential value in the anti-submarine war, not until the third year of the war did the Royal Navy give priority to the design and construction of heavier-than-air aircraft capable of directly attacking the U-boats. Until then neither the British nor the French felt any pressing need to rush. Germany’s desire to keep the United States out of the war had led the Kaiser to restrict the conduct of his U-boat commanders. This political strategy prevented submarines from achieving their full destructive potential and kept Allied naval losses within manageable limits during the war’s first two years. But by the second half of 1916 the German military and political situation had both eroded. Germany’s attempt to defeat the French at Verdun had failed, ending in nearly as many German casualties as French, a situation made worse by hundreds of thousands further German, French, and British losses at the battle of the Somme. In the wake of these setbacks, the Kaiser’s high command reorganized its military, naval, and aviation assets hoping that, by bold measures, they might defeat the French and British in whatever time remained before the United States entered the war. As a key component of this new strategy, the imperial government stepped up U-boat activity permitting the Kriegsmarine to return to unrestricted submarine warfare.

The lull in submarine activity in the Atlantic during the first half of 1916 had been prompted largely by American diplomatic protests. Germany’s failure to bring about a favorable resolution to the war at Verdun and the heavy fighting at the Somme brought home the prospects of eventual defeat. Balanced against the possibility of losing the war the political risk of offending the United States seemed one worth taking. U-boats resumed hunting prey in British home waters in August 1916 and the new threat prompted the British to expand seaplane patrols in September. In response, Adm. Stanley Cecil Colville, commander of the Royal Navy at Portsmouth, requested installation of a four-machine seaplane base at Portland to supplement the existing facility at Calshot and two more SS stations, one for the Isle of Wight and one for Portland, each with ten airships.

The WWI Air War over the Sea II

Actions like Colville’s proved preliminary to a wholesale reorganization of the war against the U-boat and, on December 18, 1916, the Admiralty created the Anti-Submarine Division (ASD). The new organization took a special interest in aviation and vastly expanded both the number of heavier- and lighter-than-air craft available and the role of its aerial assets in the anti-submarine campaign. Creation of the Anti-Submarine Division centralized naval aerial activities that previously had been left to the individual prerogatives of each region’s senior naval officer. The new division organized a coordinated system of coastal patrols and split naval aviation according to its offensive and defensive functions, much as the Dover Command had earlier divided its organization into reconnaissance, bombing, and fighting wings. Offensive assets included the airplanes and seaplanes patrolling Britain’s waters actively hunting submarines, purely defensive reconnaissance missions being left to airships due to their endurance. Given these measures made areas near the coasts safer but left ships farther out to sea to their own devices, the director of the ASD further recommended enhancing direct protection of the fleet by equipping British vessels with kite balloons to improve their fields of vision.

By January 1917 the British had built a massive naval aviation program that combined three seaplane carriers in service with more under construction, ships equipped with kite balloons, plans for rigid airships, coastal airships protecting the home waters, and large seaplanes able to patrol farther away. Yet, despite this abundance of assets, Adm. Sir David Beatty, commander-in-chief of the Grand Fleet, regarded his air strength insufficient compared with his needs and recommended to the Admiralty that: “all naval officers who are engaged upon duties not connected with the fleet should be withdrawn and utilized for developing the Royal Naval Air Service.”

The early months of 1917 also saw Germany remove all remaining restraints from its U-boat commanders, resuming unrestricted submarine warfare that the German High Command hoped would bring the war to a successful conclusion within six months. Instead, within just over two months the decision to escalate its cruiser war produced the outcome Germany most hoped to avoid. On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. Ultimately, the resumption of unrestricted attacks combined with a botched German attempt to recruit Mexico into the war on its side, prompted the United States to enter the conflict.

The U-boat war reached its peak coincident with the American entry into the war. The last half of April 1917 saw approximately 50 percent of the German submarine fleet at sea with five ships sunk on average each day. The 19th proved the worst single day of the month for the Allied merchant fleet, when U-boats and German mines sunk eleven ships and eight fishing vessels. This spike in submarine activity pushed the average for the year 1917 to three ships sunk per day. As part of the British response the RNAS laid out formal areas for aerial patrols and categorized those missions as “routine,” “emergency,” and “contact,” with contact flights reserved for its seaplanes. Beginning operations in late April, the new patrol system received formal Admiralty sanction on May 8, 1917. Station commanders at Nore, Harwich, Yarmouth, Killingholme, South Shields, Dundee, and Houton Bay coordinated patrol hours and areas in systematic fashion to avoid overlap and to ensure that each district had at least one aircraft on duty in the air during all possible flight hours.

The British further refined their naval aerial reconnaissance system in the spring of 1917 designing both the spider web system and Tracing U. The spider web created an imaginary octagon of chords radiating 60 miles out of the North Hinder light ship in the English Channel, an epicenter around which seaplanes could systematically patrol guaranteeing maximum coverage with a minimum supply of aircraft. Spider web patrols began on April 13, 1917, and in the first eighteen days five flying boats flew twenty-seven patrols sighting eight U-boats and bombing three. Tracing U (“U” for U-boat) divided the southern portion of the North Sea into grids similar to those in common use by artillery units operating on the Western Front, allowing commanders of coastal air stations to quickly pinpoint submarine sightings, then dispatch attacking aircraft or communicate the information to nearby destroyers.

Organizational refinements to the reconnaissance and patrol system proved effective and valuable, but the adoption of the convoy system in late April 1917 proved the most significant move forward toward defeating the submarine. To this point in the war many senior commanders in the British Admiralty opposed convoying merchant vessels believing that warships should be reserved for offensive action rather than escort duty. The large increase in sinkings that followed Germany’s resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in February, the success of an experiment in protecting French coal vessels begun the same month, and the entry of the United States into the war in April combined to reverse their opinions. Furthermore, America’s enlistment in the Allied cause increased the number of ships available for convoy duty and opened US ports for use as convoy assembly points.

The added naval capacity brought with it greater responsibility for Allied aviators. In order to protect the Atlantic courses over which the American Expeditionary Force and its equipment would travel naval aviation expanded its former role in protecting Anglo-French military traffic and neutral merchant shipping during the last half of 1917. Land-based airplanes and seaplanes could patrol the areas off the British and French coasts to the extent of their range covering the arrival of ships during the last leg of their travel from the United States. Kite balloons towed by warships could extend the effective field of vision of the convoy before the aerial escort picked it up, allowing crews a lifesaving early look at potential attackers throughout the journey. The British strengthened the new system further by completing construction of the network of airship stations the RNAS had begun organizing in 1916, the last becoming fully operational by the end of 1917. The RNAS, of course, protected the British coast and that portion of the French shoreline most vital to arriving British traffic. The French Navy also vigorously defended its own ports, but paid more attention to the Mediterranean and the Adriatic, leaving the Atlantic largely to their British allies and later to the AEF. The US Navy joined the effort within a few months of the American declaration of war and throughout 1918 expanded the network of protective air stations further still, taking over some British, French, and Italian coastal bases and constructing some of its own.

After the task of organizing an American army, an army that barely existed when the United States declared war, protection of that force as it crossed the Atlantic to fight on the Western Front represented the most important job facing American military and naval leaders in April 1917. In addition to the naval air stations they would build or take over in Europe, US Navy commanders faced the challenge of defending embarkation and receiving bases on their own side of the Atlantic, as well as a small number of less vulnerable installations on the Pacific coast. Even with aerial patrols fully operational the Navy would have to defend its ships against German submarines through most of the Atlantic crossing without the direct assistance of airplanes owing to the limited range of aircraft operating out of its coastal air stations. Taking their cue from British and French experience, American naval commanders enhanced the safety of the US fleet during that vulnerable period by equipping nearly every class of its ships with balloons to provide cover for the convoys.

Building the aerial organization necessary to protect the fleet required putting US naval aviators on duty in France as quickly as possible. Within five weeks of the American declaration of war the Navy dispatched Lt. Kenneth Whiting to take charge of the first group of naval flight trainees sent to France. Training preparations progressed well enough that by July the Navy reported to the French that two schools had been established within the French interior, one at Tours to instruct pilots and the second at San Raphael for prospective mechanics and observers. Plans had also been made for an additional school to teach naval artillery observation as well as an operational station at Moutchic-Lacanau.

Once trained the Navy’s aviators would serve at a network of stations in the planning stages or already under construction on both sides of the Atlantic. By July 1917 provisional plans existed for the organization of naval air stations at Dunkerque, Le Croisic, and St. Trojan in addition to the facilities at Tours, San Raphael and Moutchic-Lacanau. Operations commenced at Moutchic-Lacanau on November 11, 1917 and within a week the naval air station at Le Croisic launched the first of an eventual 1,045 wartime patrol flights.

By the following April another four stations had opened in Great Britain and France, at Killingholme, Ile Tudy, Dunkerque, and Paimboeuf, as well as a base at Bolsena, Italy. Patrols from these and the extant British and French air bases impressively demonstrated the value of aerial reconnaissance to the convoy system. In the spring, RAdm. Henry G. Wilson told the French press that cooperation between the French and US navies had substantially reduced sinkings in the waters along the French coast, comparing October 1917, during which thirty-four ships were torpedoed to February and April 1918, when no ships had been lost to the U-boats.

Though submarine losses directly attributable to aircraft action are difficult to document, the mere presence of airplanes or airships frequently played critical roles in the demise of U-boats. Two incidents, both of which coincidentally took place on April 24, 1918, provide typical examples. In the first, airship SSZ 41, stationed at RAF Polegate received a report of a submarine operating southeast of the Isle of Wight. In response, the crew patrolled in the vicinity of the submarine’s reported sighting for twelve hours in a dense fog, returning without having sighted the U-boat. A torpedo boat destroyer found and sank the German raider later in the morning. Official speculation held that the submarine had been forced to remain submerged in order to avoid detection by the airship and that by morning the desperate need for fresh air and recharged batteries forced the boat to the surface, putting it in a situation where it could no longer avoid detection.

The second incident further demonstrates the potential of air-sea cooperation. Two American seaplanes patrolling off the French coast near Penmarch spotted what they believed to be a German submarine operating two miles from a convoy, responding to the opportunity with two bombs. Tracking the encounter, USS Stewart left its position in the convoy to investigate. While en route, the Stewart watched the aircraft mark the site with smoke bombs and, on arriving at the scene the American ship dropped depth charges after which the crew observed oil on the surface. Though no wreckage surfaced, other ships in the vicinity observed oil as late as two days later, providing strong evidence of a sinking.

The success of the patrols and the convoy system firmly established what the world’s navies had been learning throughout the war—that extending the vision of ships using aerial observers saved lives and material. Over the course of the war’s remaining months the US Navy established a dozen stateside naval air bases, in addition to a pair in Canada, one each in the Azores and the Panama Canal Zone, and a total of twenty-seven air stations in Europe. The stations on the American side of the Atlantic functioned primarily as coastal patrol stations protecting the convoy assembly points from the threat of German submarines. The nineteen naval air stations on the European side of the Atlantic that conducted similar reconnaissance flights generally communicated their sightings to nearby ships but occasionally launched their own attacks on real or suspected submarines.

Considering naval heavier- and lighter-than-air units along with the Army’s airplanes and balloon sections makes it clear that American aviation had reconnaissance and observation as its main purpose. Fifteen North American naval air stations and one in the Panama Canal Zone had reconnaissance as their primary duty, as did nineteen of the US Navy’s twenty-seven European stations. In comparison, the French established a total of thirty-six coastal seaplane bases, as well as a half dozen balloon centers, and four dirigible bases. Adding those thirty-five American bases to the forty-five US Air Service airplane squadrons and the seventeen American balloon companies working on the Western Front raises the total number of American aviation units that served during the conflict to ninety-seven, out of which seventy, or 72 percent, performed reconnaissance or observation as their primary function. Regardless of how military and naval air power developed over the rest of the twentieth century, during the First World War its principal and most valuable function lay in the aviators’ ability to see and report what happened on the ground and water.

The numbers of aircraft acquired by the world’s navies during the war further document the growing appreciation for aviation. The British Navy increased its heavier-than-air aircraft stock from fewer than one hundred to nearly three thousand, its airship strength from six to 111, and its inventory of captive balloons from two to 200. The Deutsch Kriegsmarine air fleet grew from twenty-four air- and seaplanes to nearly 1,500, and its lighter-than-air division worked its way through eighty-three airships, beginning the war with one and making it to the armistice with nineteen. The French Navy enlarged its heavier-than-air aircraft supplies from eight at the outset of war to 1,264 at the end, alongside fifty-eight airships and 198 kite balloons. Even the more limited resources of Austria-Hungary and Italy grew exponentially, the Austro-Hungarian air- and seaplane fleet expanding between eleven- and twelve-fold and the Italian inventory by more than twenty-fold. For its part, over the relatively short time it spent at war the US Navy grew its aircraft inventory from fifty-four airplanes and seaplanes, one airship, and two balloons in April 1917 to over 2,100 heavier-than-aircraft, fifteen airships, and more than two hundred balloons at the armistice. These figures reflect the same kind of progress the world’s other warring powers made during the conflict.

Although these dramatic operational changes and numerical increases speak to how thoroughly aviation had been accepted into the world’s navies, they do not begin to hint at the change in character the presence of aircraft brought to the war at sea. Although aircraft may have failed to live up to naval leaders’ prewar expectations due to airframe and powerplant technological limitations, through its reconnaissance function naval aviation prevented many potential sea disasters. History’s failure to acknowledge this enormous contribution lies in the challenge proving a negative always presents to the post-event analyst. In evaluating the impact of the RNAS/RFC merger that created the Royal Air Force on April 1, 1918, one historian argued the demise of the Royal Naval Air Service “crippled Britain’s credibility as a sea power.” During the First World War and afterwards the US Navy arrived at the same conclusion. The day had arrived when a modern navy seeking to project its nation’s power around the globe could not hope to compete without its aircraft.

Debunking the Flying Porcupine Myth

A Sunderland in Action

The Aeroplane – Published April 12, 1940

A Short Sunderland four-motor flying-boat of the Coastal Command was engaged with six two-motor Junkers Ju. 88K bombers while on convoy duty off the coast of Norway on April 3. The Sunderland shot down one of the Ju. 88s in flames, another was forced to land in Norway, where the crew set it on fire before being arrested and interned. The rest tried, unsuccessfully, to bomb the Sunderland. The Sunderland’s first and second pilots were both slightly injured by bomb splinters, and some of the boat’s controls were damaged, but it returned to its base at the end of its patrol. The Sunderland had previously driven of a German reconnaissance aeroplane which had been shadowing the convoy. Later, four bombers (believed to be Ju. 88Ks) made an attack on the ships but were driven off by anti-aircraft fire. Soon afterwards, the six Ju. 88Ks appeared. They probably intended to renew the attack on the convoy, but paused to dispose of the Sunderland first – a move which proved a tactical error.

The Sunderland was often called the `Fliegende Stachelswein’ in the British press – but was that just a propaganda myth?

From the earliest days of service, the Sunderland was regarded as a heavily armed aircraft by the British and Empire press, even to the extent of using terms like `Flying Fortress’. This was mainly due to the four belt-fed Browning .303 guns in the tail turret. It’s often overlooked that the three other guns were pan-fed .303 Vickers K guns, with a far lower rate of fire and small ammunition supply. It is unlikely that the Luftwaffe was impressed by this armament, having larger calibre, longer range and more powerful cannon in their machines.

The initial inadequate armament was boosted throughout the war with the addition of the mid upper turret and guns below the wings in the galley hatches. By the summer of 1943, the Sunderlands of Coastal Command faced the threat of long-range German fighters with a success rate that has become legendary. The Ju88s of V/KG-40 patrolled in packs but on more than one occasion, a lone Sunderland was able to fight off the assault and return to base. Perhaps the most frequently quoted battle is that of Flt Lt Colin Walker and crew, flying EJ134 of 461 Squadron, on June 2, 1943. As their patrol ended, eight Ju88s were spotted and in the ensuing 45 minute battle, they claimed three fighters shot down and several others damaged, although Luftwaffe records do not show a loss that day. One gunner on the Sunderland was mortally wounded and the aircraft so badly damaged it was beached at Praa Sands in Cornwall.

This is commonly cited as evidence for the Germans having nicknamed the Sunderland `Fliegende Stachelswein’ – the `flying porcupine’. But how likely is it that the Germans gave the enemy such a name? And how likely is it that a German nickname would become well known in the UK?

Actually, the 1942 propaganda booklet, `Coastal Command’ describes the Sunderland as having `a very wide range and an armament formidable enough for it to have been nicknamed `flying porcupine’ by the Germans.’ An earlier 1940 Christmas Quiz in The Times asked: `What British aeroplane do the Germans call `Fliegende Stachelswein’?’ Clearly they expected their readers would know the phrase. But just what incident was the question referring to? A clue lies even further back in The Times of September 11 that year in an article `A year’s work of the RAF Coastal Command,’ which stated:

`The Germans have a wholesome respect for them, and it is a pilot of more than average courage who would dare to tackle one unaided. With their guns sticking out at all angles, they seem to be able to fire in any direction. Because of their bristling armament, the Germans call them Fliegende Stachelswein.’

There were at least three incidents that the public would have known about in 1940 which proved the Sunderland’s reputation for defence: two occurred during the Norwegian campaign, although perhaps the most dramatic was over the Mediterranean when Italian fighters attacked an aircraft with the War Correspondent Alexander Clifford on board. Sunderland L5804 encountered three Macchi Mc200s on July 28: claiming one shot down in a long battle described in some detail in Clifford’s write-up for several newspapers.

Equally dramatic was an encounter on April 3, in Sunderland N9046, piloted by Flt Lt Frank Phillips. The Sunderland was on patrol of the Norwegian coast, when they had a skirmish with two Ju88s before running into six more. The official Air Ministry announcement stated, `While engaged in patrol duties over the North Sea yesterday (Weds) afternoon, a flying boat of Coastal Command, RAF, encountered six enemy aircraft of the Junkers type. One of the latter was shot down and seen to fall into the sea. The remaining Junkers broke off the engagement and our aircraft resumed patrol.’

The stark statement hides the reality of the battle in which Cpl Lillie in the rear turret was cool enough to hold his fire until the Junkers was only 100 yards away. He watched his prey turn away sharply and spin into the sea. After the badly damaged Sunderland made it safely home, Phillips was awarded a DFC and Lillie the DFM.

It seems that N9046 was the original `Flying Porcupine’. The incident was even used in adverts by Short Brothers soon after the attack.

Later that month, another Sunderland, N9025, fought off a Bf110 over Molde Fjord. The 110 was later reported to have crashed as a result of the damage it received. But the Germans had their share of success against the Sunderlands over Norway, with L5799 lost on April 7 and L2167 lost on April 9, both to a Bf110.

Ironically, the British wartime public never got to see one reason the Germans might have regarded the Sunderland as a porcupine. For much of the war, Sunderlands operated with the dipole ASV radar aerials on the rear fuselage, making it look rather like a spiky hedgehog. But any images showing these aerials were censored in the British wartime press. Even today, these retouched photos are still often used and consequently continue to obscure the importance of radar in the U-Boat battle. And there’s no evidence that the aerials led German aircrew to call the Sunderlands `Stachelswein’.

In 1940, the British needed to be able to celebrate how good their aircraft were – even if only when fighting off attackers. So it seems someone just invented the name.

First Jet Warplanes

In the time since man first battled with his fellow man, aerial warfare takes up a milli-second. Heavier-than-air flight is less than a century old and it was not until 1910 that a military firearm was fired or a dummy bomb dropped from an aeroplane in flight. In the following decade, World War I accelerated aviation technology out of all recognition and airplanes had become an important weapon.

In five short years, they had photographed the front line from the air, sunk submarines, bombed capital cities, and pursued and shot down other aircraft. Over the next two decades, military aviation marked time, with developments of World War I biplanes being used by most air forces until war clouds again loomed over Europe in the late 1930s.

From the first day of World War II, it was clear that aerial warfare would play a crucial role in the outcome of the conflict. The German Blitzkrieg unleashed over Poland, Norway, the Low Countries, and France swept all before it. RAF fighter aircraft saved the British Isles from a German invasion during the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940, while the Japanese aerial attack on Pearl Harbor just over a year later at first caught the world’s most powerful nation totally unprepared, but unleashed aerial retribution such as the world had never witnessed before.

For the next five years, the race for superiority saw unprecedented advances in aviation technology ranging from the development of the jet engine, radar, aircraft carriers, airborne assaults, helicopters, pressurized cockpits, and hydraulically operated folding wings for naval aircraft. Weapon technology saw the introduction of 30mm cannons, flying bombs, guided missiles, “Grand Slam” bombs, ballistic rockets, and the atomic bomb.

By the end of the war, air power could now reduce the world to a wasteland and an even longer struggle for air superiority was about to begin. The dying months of the conflict had seen the so-called Allies involved in a deadly race to capture German aviation designers, technicians, and the experimental aircraft that they had been developing. The results of the captured German research, which were divided between the victorious nations, mainly the United States and the Soviet Union, were integrated with that carried out by their own designers, paving the way for a quantum leap in technology over the next decade.

The impetus for these advances was yet another war, one of a different kind—the Cold War that “broke out” following the Soviet blockade of Berlin in June 1948. This blockade was defeated by an unprecedented US and British airlift to sustain the city that lasted for more than a year. US and Soviet defense budgets mushroomed as the two “Superpowers” raced to replace outdated World War II combat aircraft with state-of-the-art jet warplanes. Some idea of the pace of change can be measured by the world absolute air speed record which stood at 486mph (777kmh) at the end of the war and would more than double in the next decade.

When communist North Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950, the conflict was about to test Soviet and US aviation technology as the Cold War threatened to escalate into World War III. The latest combat aircraft from both “Superpowers” faced each other in a desperate battle for air superiority in the remote Southeast Asian skies. The most successful fighters involved in the Korean War were very similar in design, size and performance. Both the North American F-86 Sabre, which first flew in October 1947, and the Soviet MiG-15 which flew a month later, benefited from German swept-wing research while the Soviet fighter also utilized British jet-engine technology by reverse engineering the Rolls Royce Nene. However, the US fighter had a 10-to-1 kill ratio over the MiGs by the time the conflict ended in July 1953, the Sabre’s ability to absorb battle damage, and the quality of its pilots, being the deciding factors.

The Korean War further escalated the Cold War arms race. The largest slice of the US defense budget at the time went to the US Air Force’s Strategic Air Command (SAC) which ordered more than 2,000 B-47 Stratojet global mission bombers. The futuristic three-man nuclear bomber, powered by six turbojets fitted in pods under a thin swept wing that again was based on German research, had an unrefueled range of nearly 3,000 miles (4,800km). Vast amounts of money was also being poured into the development of supersonic “second generation” fighters which culminated in the American Century Fighter series in the mid-1950s. The first of these was the F-100 Super Sabre which was quickly followed by the F-101 Voodoo and F-102 Delta Dagger and F-106 Delta Dart.

Building American Air Power

The building of American air power, foreshadowed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s response to the dismal end of the Czech crisis of 1938, involved several kinds of vigorous and sustained efforts. Aircraft had to be manufactured in massive numbers, designs improved, and new models developed as necessary. The Army Air Forces had to set up a worldwide logistics network to supply, maintain, and repair the vast aerial armada thus created. The service had to recruit and train manpower-a term that by the end of the war included women-and then had to take care of those who had been recruited, sustaining their morale and providing for their health and welfare.

The manufacture of airplanes, rather than the training of men and women, set the pace for the creation of American air power to fight World War II. Simply put, the air arm could neither train, nor deploy, nor fight without aircraft, and the inventory seemed unlikely to grow rapidly because of the sluggish rate of the nation’s aircraft production. In 1939, when fighting broke out in Europe, firms in the United States produced just 2,195 airplanes of all types, about half of Japan’s output, one-fourth of Germany’s, two-thirds of France’s, and one-third of Great Britain’s. An obviously feeble American industry faced the challenge of providing not only the aircraft for American forces but also those needed by the nations arrayed against the Axis. Following the passage of lend-lease legislation in March 1941, aircraft production became even more important as the United States, following the President’s vow of December 1940, turned itself into the great arsenal of democracy, sustaining the war against the Axis powers while at the same time rearming.

Of all the combatants in World War II, only the United States succeeded in building the numbers and kinds of aircraft necessary to wage every form of aerial warfare-whether strategic, tactical, land- or carrier-based-and to supply the air services of its allies as well as those of its own armed forces. The Soviet Union, for example, had a labor force, raw materials, and plant capacity rivaling that of the United States; but the German invasion forced the displacement of factories out of the war zone, and Soviet authorities chose to concentrate on tactical aviation for support of the Red Army. America’s other major ally, the United Kingdom, lacked the resources in workers, materials, and machines to produce an adequate number of aircraft for every purpose. Once the Battle of Britain had been won, the British increased the emphasis on bombers, enlisting science to help them find and destroy German targets. Among the Axis powers, Italy was handicapped by shortages of raw materials for the construction and operation of aircraft. Similarly, Japan failed to benefit from its early conquests; American submarine warfare and an unexpectedly rapid Allied counteroffensive overtook Japanese the war industry. Although not fully mobilized until February 1944, German industry demonstrated greater ingenuity, despite mounting Allied pressure, but could not overtake the United States except in such narrow specialties as jet and rocket propulsion and synthetic fuel. After overrunning western Europe and large tracts of the Soviet Union, Germany failed to integrate the resources of these regions, except for labor drafts either forced or voluntary, into the production effort. Hitler believed his people could have both guns and butter and refused to countenance multiple shifts or the presence of women workers in Germany’s aviation industry. Late in the war a first-class organizer, Albert Speer, began to realize the potential of Germany’s factories, but defeat overtook his efforts. President Roosevelt by contrast forced American firms to extend themselves, in part by establishing production goals that seemed unattainable even to him. In 1939 he had spoken boldly of turning out 10,000 aircraft per year, although he had to settle at the time for a third that amount in new construction; and in May of 1940 he announced a goal of 50,000 planes. In response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the declarations of war by Germany and Italy, he demanded that the American aircraft industry build 60,000 airplanes in 1942 and 125,000 during 1943. The new Assistant Secretary of War for Air, Robert A. Lovett, could not believe that turning out 125,000 aircraft in a single year was a realistic objective. He compared this to “asking a hen to lay an ostrich egg.” It was “unlikely you will get the egg, and the hen will never look the same,” he said. Lt. Gen. Henry H. Arnold, as chief of the Army Air Forces, decided to accept the wear and tear on the hen. Roosevelt often settled for less than he demanded, but American industry during the war eventually came within 30,000 aircraft of meeting his most ambitious goal, attaining a peak output of 96,000 aircraft in 1944.

Although he dealt with possibilities rather than realities in announcing his production goals, the President kept in close touch with the views of the military concerning their actual aircraft requirements. In the summer of 1941, this contact had resulted in AWPD/1-Air War Plans Division plan number one-which proposed that the Army Air Forces expand in the event of war to 60,000 planes and 2,100,000 men. In August 1942, Roosevelt asked for a new estimate that reflected more accurately the needs of a coalition war against Germany, Japan, and Italy. Specifically, he wanted an estimate of “the number of combat aircraft by types that should be produced for the Army and our Allies. in 1943 in order to have complete air ascendancy over the enemy.” As in the case of the previous year’s presidential request for production requirements, the Air War Plans Division of the Air Staff undertook a response. Although wartime reassignments had broken up the team that had turned out AWPD/1, Arnold summoned one of its members, Haywood Hansell, now a brigadier general, from England to take charge of the new study, called AWPD/42. In answering the President’s question, General Hansen’s group called for the production of some 75,000 airplanes and 8,000 gliders, intended for an Army Air Forces numbering 2,700,000 men, along with 8,000 aircraft for America’s allies. Omitted from the list of aircraft was the intercontinental bomber proposed in AWPD/1; instead of investing in the B-36, the Army Air Forces would use the B-17 and B-24 to carry the war to Hitler’s Germany, with the B-29 or B-32 appearing in time to batter Japan from bases in China or on the islands of the far Pacific.

Besides answering the basic question, Arnold’s Air Staff planners, as with AWPD/1, used a presidential request for projections of aircraft production as the occasion for a statement of aerial strategy. For the most part, AWPD/42 reaffirmed the earlier views on bombing Germany into submission. The list of critical targets increased by twenty-three to 177, an expansion that reflected the addition of three war industries-submarine construction, aluminum production, and the manufacture of synthetic rubber-to the “target systems” contained in AWPD/1: electric power; transportation; oil; and the Luftwaffe, including fighters, bases, and aircraft factories. With the Battle of the Atlantic far from won, submarine construction ranked second in importance only to the neutralization of the Luftwaffe. If American airmen destroyed all 177 targets, Hansen’s group insisted, “the effect would be decisive and Germany would be unable to continue her war effort.” Enemy morale received scant mention, possibly because Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris of the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command had laid claim to city busting, which combined the physical destruction of cities with the demoralization of their inhabitants.

In drafting AWPD/42, General Arnold’s planners included an estimate of 33,000 aircraft manufactured for the Navy, a figure based on official projections rather than specific interservice coordination. Even more rashly, the Army airmen proposed a coastal command of their own, numbering 640 heavy and medium bombers, that would patrol the waters off North and South America, Iceland, and the Azores in search of submarines. Admiral Ernest J. King, the Chief of Naval Operations, found the idea of an Army Air Forces hemispheric patrol especially annoying, for he had just wrested from a reluctant Arnold a share of bomber production so that Navy airmen could fly long-range antisubmarine missions. Always sensitive to the fact that Arnold was not a true service chief like General George C. Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, and himself, King raised strong objections to the Air Forces’ meddling in Navy matters and prevented the Joint Chiefs from formally adopting the plan, which nevertheless served as a statement of what the Army Air Forces saw as its needs and its strategy against Germany.

As befit an industrial giant whose strength lay in the mass production of durable goods, the United States was blessed with managers who could apply assembly-line techniques to huge bombers (though with mixed results) and even to ships. The automobile industry had its Henry Ford, his son Edsel, and William S. Knudsen, the General Motors executive who helped advise the President on issues of production and later became a lieutenant general in charge of materiel for the Air Forces. Men like J. H. “Dutch” Kindleberger of North American Aviation and Henry J. Kaiser in shipbuilding knew how to bring workers, raw materials, and finished components together in the proper place and sequence.

The civilian within the War Department who bore the greatest responsibility for aircraft purchases and production, Assistant Secretary Lovett, was a lawyer, however, rather than a manager. His legal work for the aviation industry gave him a familiarity with production methods, costs, and profits. His experience enabled him to judge the feasibility of production goals and harmonize the plans of the air arm with those being shaped for the entire Army by General Marshall and Under Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson, who did for the Army Ground Forces and Service Forces what Lovett did for the Air Forces.

The impressive production effort began in chaos. Scarcely had the fighting broken out in Europe when the Army air arm found itself competing with the British and French for new aircraft. The collapse of France in 1940 did not ease the situation, for Roosevelt subsequently agreed to assist China and the Soviet Union. General Arnold objected from the outset to sharing America’s slender aerial resources, voicing his complaint so strenuously that President Roosevelt, according to Arnold’s recollection, reminded the airman that “there were places to which officers who did not play ball could be sent, such as Guam.” In a sense, the Air Corps profited from agreeing, however reluctantly, to the release of aircraft, for Britain and France provided data on combat performance that led to such improvements as increased firepower and armor. Nor did the diversion weaken the American air forces as much as Arnold had feared, for the best aircraft of 1940 or even 1941 were not necessarily the best in 1943 or 1944.

The President’s desire to aid foreign nations had the greatest impact on the availability of fighters. The United States transferred more than 17,000 of these aircraft during the course of the war. The types diverted in the greatest numbers to the various Allies were P-39s and P-40s, adequate fighters when designed before the war but soon outperformed by more modern types. Similarly, General Arnold sacrificed some 7,000 light bombers or attack aircraft, half either A-20s intended for the Air Forces or versions of that successful airplane designated specifically for export. Included in the shipments to America’s allies, however, were almost 3,000 aircraft for which the Army Air Forces had no plans: Lockheed’s A-29 Hudson, Martin’s A-30 Baltimore, and Vultee’s A-31 Vengeance dive bomber (manufactured as the A-35). Thanks to mass production, these transfers, along with the shipment of some 2,000 B-24s and 3,000 C-47s, had little long-term effect, although early in the conflict, before huge numbers of aircraft began emerging from the assembly lines, the absence of the A-20s, P-39s, and P-40s may well have hampered the Air Forces in the early months of the war. On balance, however, American manufacturers met the needs of both lend-lease and the armed forces of the United States.

Although Roosevelt announced unrealistic goals for aircraft production, he took concrete action to increase productive capacity so that they might ultimately be reached. Beginning in 1940, his administration provided incentives for aircraft builders, minimizing the financial risk to the manufacturer. Since American firms had struggled for survival during the depression of the previous decade, they proved reluctant to invest in additional plant capacity that might not be needed if Great Britain collapsed or the United States avoided involvement in the conflict. Roosevelt’s answer was to build the factories at government expense and allow private corporations to operate them; by the end of the war, the Air Forces had used War Department funds appropriated for the purpose to contract for 34 major plants. Although nine contracts were either canceled or amended to incorporate other financing, the total investment by the government approached $1.5 billion, some 20 times the amount spent on the entire Air Corps in 1939. Additional money, perhaps another $1 billion, was spent on lesser facilities, tools and other equipment, and the expansion of existing plants. Thanks in large measure to federal expenditures, the amount of floor space devoted to the manufacture of airframes, engines, and propellers increased more than 13-fold from some 13 million square feet in 1940 to a maximum of about 175 million square feet in December 1943.

Besides building factories and leasing them to aircraft manufacturers, the Roosevelt administration persuaded Congress to ease restrictions on excess profits, to grant tax advantages to airplane builders, and to lift the ban on negotiated contracts that had caused Maj. Gen. Benjamin D. Foulois such embarrassment when he was Chief of the Air Corps in the 1930s. Congress enacted the reforms piecemeal during the wartime years. The substitution of negotiation for time-consuming competition and the awarding of tax breaks were obvious measures for meeting the demand for increased production. The subject of excess profits proved far more complex. Although profit was perhaps the strongest of incentives, some restrictions had to prevail, for war profiteering posed a real threat to the nation’s sense of purpose and to its economy. A later congressional investigation revealed that one company, which owed its very existence to government loans and its success to military contracts, more than doubled the price to the Army and the Navy for an aircraft engine starter. The excess profits in this case found their way into bonuses for executives and welfare or morale programs for the workers. Abuses like this caused the government to insist on renegotiating contracts if profits seemed outrageous, but establishing a margin of profit applicable throughout the aircraft industry proved impossible. Such factors as the volume of manufacture, the availability of labor and material, the urgency with which a product was needed, and the extent of the government’s investment in tools and buildings had to be considered before making accusations of profiteering. Thus it happened that Douglas Aircraft, when it first began operating plants owned by the government, could legally realize a profit in excess of 50 percent on its corporate investment, seven times the average by firms using company-owned plants and machinery.

The American government also harnessed the American automobile industry to aircraft production. It too expanded into new factories built by the government for the manufacture of aircraft or converting existing ones to take advantage of the techniques of mass production perfected by the auto builders. These practices proved more adaptable to the making of all-metal airplanes than they had to the handcrafting of the wood-and-linen products of an earlier generation. As an airplane manufacturer, the automobile industry concentrated on fabricating wings or other structural components for aircraft assembled by others. Only Ford and the Eastern Aircraft Division of General Motors participated on any large scale in the final assembly of airplanes, with Ford building Consolidated B-24s for the Army Air Forces and General Motors making Grumman aircraft for the Navy.

Ford’s government-built plant at Willow Run, Michigan, applied the methods of mass production to building the entire airframe of the B-24 and installing the bomber’s four engines. Ford production engineers planned to use dies to shape bomber parts from aluminum, just as automobile components were shaped from steel. Unfortunately, aluminum, unlike steel, tends to reassume its original shape after being stamped in a die and requires repeated stampings and more time to achieve a desired shape. Major components of the B-24, such as the vertical stabilizer, were changed to reflect experience in combat, and radical changes required the construction of new dies. Parts for an automobile’s chassis and sheet metal skin might require only simple cosmetic adjustments during a production run of two or more years. The Willow Run plant became highly efficient measured by weight produced per worker, but actual numbers of finished aircraft remained disappointing. By March 1944, monthly production barely exceeded 400 bombers, roughly two-thirds capacity, but given the success at other factories and the progress on the battlefield, the projected manufacture of 600 bombers per month at Willow Run proved unnecessary.

The nation’s auto builders had marked success in converting to the production of aircraft engines. Packard, which built Liberty engines in World War I, now manufactured under license the British Rolls Royce Merlin that powered the P-51 escort fighter. General Motors, Ford, and Nash built Pratt and Whitney products, while Dodge and Studebaker were licensed by Wright Aeronautical. Automobile firms turned out more than 40 percent of the engines built for American aircraft between July 1940 and August 1945.

The provision of labor for the industry was the last great area of aviation mobilization in the war. As the aircraft industry grew larger, the nature of its work force changed. From 200,000 in 1940, most skilled craftsmen, the number of workers soared beyond 2,000,000 in 1944, declining the following year below 1,500,000 as a result of cutbacks in production that began even before the war ended. Most of the new workers were unskilled, though thoroughly trained in the repetitive work that contributed to the fabrication of an airplane, and many were women. The preponderance of unskilled (or at most semiskilled) labor reflected the triumph of the assembly line, on which much of the construction of the airplanes became a succession of simple procedures that required attention to detail rather than competence at metal working or some other craft. Although most of the workers had limited skills, workers with industrial experience were necessary to keep the production line moving. The Selective Service System sought to keep skilled aircraft technicians in the factories, and prevented their departure for the armed services. Persons holding essential jobs remained exempt from military service, and federal authorities urged workers about to enter the armed forces to remain at the plant for as long as possible. Since the work force had to be kept intact, the Army Air Forces saw to it that a new project was waiting when an existing contract ended. Industrial planners tried to avoid periods of idleness, even when a factory retooled for a different product. This policy sustained morale in the work force by providing continuity and reduced the tendency of employees to move from one firm to another and force the old employer to hire and train new workers before resuming production.

In an aircraft industry whose greatest strength (aside, perhaps, from its very size) was a unique capacity for mass production, the issue of quantity versus quality arose early in the war. Should the Army Air Forces settle for good or insist on the best? Was it better to turn out large numbers of adequate aircraft immediately or to accept the unavoidable delay in attaining the maximum volume of production in order to obtain a superior airplane? The Director of Requirements on the Air Staff, Maj. Gen. Davenport “Johnny” Johnson, commander of a pursuit group during World War I, endorsed quality: “Fifty 100 percent aircraft are of more value than a hundred 50 percent aircraft in actual combat.” His words went unheeded, for in 1943 the Air Forces delayed the appearance of the Douglas A-26 light bomber to continue volume production of three similar, adequate, but less effective aircraft- the North American B-25, Martin B-26, and Douglas A-20. Similarly, Vultee’s A-35 Vengeance dive bomber remained in production even though neither the Army Air Forces nor the Navy had any plans for them; however, America’s allies received the Vengeance through lend-lease, and it saw action with the British in Burma.

The Opening Round of the Battle of Britain I

Barry Spicer is a celebrated aviation artist from Adelaide, Australia. Barry considers himself lucky to be able to do something he loves, and his fascination in aviation goes back to his childhood. At the age of 6, his parents took him to see the film “The Battle of Britain” and was so inspired by the sight of the graceful but deadly aeroplanes that he turned his already established pastime of drawing to aircraft. Since then he has been fascinated by flight and just about anything that flies which is evident in his finished works, be they drawings or oil paintings.
This recent work entitled “Combat Over the Channel” captures a dramatic Battle of Britain dogfight between a pair of Bf 109s and Hurricanes over the Channel coastline.

The largest attack to date was carried out by waves of He111s – 16 of I/KG27, 12 of II/KG27, 12 of III/KG27 and 10 of I/KG4, 11 of II/KG4 and 10 of III/KG4 – on the night of 18/19 June, the Home Office Intelligence Summary revealing the extent of the raids and the damage inflicted during the period 18:00 on 18 June to 06:00 on 19 June:

Coastal districts from Middleborough to Portsmouth were under warning and sirens were sounded in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Huntingdonshire and Kent during the night. London was under yellow warning during the period, and so was the Barrow-in-Furness district on the South-West Coast. Some bombs dropped in the North-Eastern Region, and, a substantial number in the North Midland Region; the chief damage, however, was done at Cambridge, where houses were demolished and nine people were killed, at Southend, where houses and a boys’ school were damaged, and to oil installations Canvey Island. Incendiary and high explosive bombs were used. Ten civilian deaths [in total] and 26 people injured have been reported.

KG27 headed for the Midlands while East Anglia bore the brunt of KG4’s raids as bombers targeted RAF stations in Suffolk and Norfolk. Warned of the approaching enemy aircraft, Blenheim night fighters of 29 Squadron from RAF Debden were ordered off, while a lone Spitfire of 19 Squadron flown by Flt Sgt Jack Steere was scrambled from RAF Duxford at 23:15. At about the same time more Blenheim night fighters of 23 Squadron were taking-off from RAF Wittering. Heinkel 5J+GA of Stab/KG4 flown by Ltn Erich Simon with Oblt Heinz-Georg Corpus as observer led the way on a pre-attack reconnaissance, and was followed by the main force flying in sections at intervals. The first of these reached Clacton at 23:00, and 15 minutes later another was illuminated by searchlights, at which the crew released their bombs. Three exploded in nearby Holland-on-Sea, damaging houses in King’s Cliff Avenue and Medina Road. Another Heinkel jettisoned its bombs over Southend, where one of the thirteen casualties later died. By now the leading section of three Heinkels was approaching Bury St Edmunds, but east of the Suffolk market town they were intercepted by a Blenheim of 29 Squadron flown by Sqn Ldr John McLean. They proved too fast for the Blenheim, one Heinkel opening fire on its pursuer without effect. This, or another, jettisoned its bombs, which fell at Rougham Rectory and near its churchyard.

Another Staffel crossed the coast at Sheringham, near where Sgt Alan Close in a 23 Squadron Blenheim (L1458/S) engaged a Heinkel held in searchlights, only to be shot down by return fire. Close was killed but his gunner LAC Laurence Karasek managed to bale out. The Blenheim crashed in flames at Terrington St Clement. A second Blenheim (YP-L), flown by Flt Lt Myles Duke-Woolley (with AC Derek Bell as gunner) was soon in the area and engaged the same Heinkel – 5J+DM of Stab II/KG4:

00:45. Observed a ball of fire, which took to be a Blenheim fighter in flames, break away from behind the tail of the E/A. I climbed to engage this E/A and attacked from below the tail after the searchlights were extinguished. I close to a range of 50 yards and opened fire. E/A returned fire and appeared to throttle back suddenly. My own speed was 130-140mph and I estimate the E/A slowed to 110mph. I delivered five attacks with front guns and during these my air gunner fired seven bursts at various ranges. After the last front gun attack my gunner reported that the E/A’s port engine was on fire. As my starboard engine was now u/s I broke off the engagement and returned to base, where several bullet holes were found in the wings and fuselage, including cannon strikes in the starboard wing and rear fuselage.

One bullet had lodged in Derek Bell’s parachute pack, fortunately without harming him. The Heinkel finally ditched in shallow water in Blakeney Creek on the north Norfolk coast. Coastguards captured the crew, Major Dietrich Fr von Massenbach (the Gruppenkommandeur), Oblt Ulrich Jordan, Obfw Max Leimer and Fw Karl Amberger, who was severely wounded. A subsequent news report revealed:

Two local auxiliary coastguard patrols saw an aircraft in obvious difficulties, off the coast. Flames were issuing from one of its engines, and it crashed in shallow water close to the beach. They gave the alarm and ran to the beach. They intercepted the crew of the aircraft, a Heinkel bomber, as they swam and waded ashore with the help of their rubber dinghy. It seemed at first that the crew, consisting of four men, would show fight. The auxiliary coastguard men thereupon covered the Germans with their firearms. The Germans shouted and surrendered. They were searched and disarmed and detained until the arrival of the military.

By now, other bombers had reached RAF Stradishall, home of Wellingtons, bombs falling around the village of Hargrave, six miles south-west of Bury St Edmunds. The rectory was hit and the vicar’s daughter injured by flying glass. More bombs fell on Lodge Farm, Rede and in Fersfield Street, Bressingham, without causing further casualties. RAF Marham in Norfolk was attacked by a lone bomber, the bombs missing the airfield and exploding near King’s Lynn, while RAF Mildenhall also escaped damage when the intended bombs fell near the village of Culford, four miles north-west of Bury St Edmunds. Bombs also fell near the sugar beet factory – one of the largest in Europe – on the outskirts of the town, slightly injuring two residents of Westfield Cottages in Hollow Road.

In addition to the Blenheims searching for the intruders, which now included aircraft from 604 Squadron, more Spitfires had been scrambled by 19 Squadron. Moments before midnight, a Heinkel released its bombs over Cambridge, where two bombs demolished eight houses in Vicarage Terrace, killing nine persons while another ten were admitted to hospital, three of whom were seriously injured. Among the dead were five children. Bombs also fell at West Fen, Ely, killing one civilian and 30 cattle, and elsewhere in the area. AA guns at RAF Feltwell engaged the raiders but claimed no successes.

Three Heinkels were credited to 29 Squadron’s Blenheims, Plt Off John Barnwell (L6636) engaging one illuminated by searchlights over Debden, which reportedly crashed with its starboard engine on fire. However, Barnwell’s aircraft was hit by return fire and crashed in the sea off the Stour Estuary. He and his gunner Sgt Long were killed. Plt Off Lionel Kells in L1508 fired at another Heinkel and believed that he had shot this down off Felixstowe. This was possibly a 4.Staffel machine that returned damaged by fighters during a sortie to attack Mildenhall airfield. One of Fw Heinz Schäfer’s crew was badly wounded in the stomach and on return was admitted to hospital in Lille. Shortly thereafter, Plt Off Jack Humphries in L1375 damaged another Heinkel near Debden, but his own aircraft was hit by return fire and crash-landed at Debden. His opponent was possibly Fw Erich Gregor’s Stab I machine that belly-landed, badly damaged, on a beach east of Calais on return. Gregor and his crew, Oblt Falk Willis (observer), Fw Karl Brucker and Uffz Josef Jochmann all survived unhurt although their aircraft was written off.

Meanwhile, Flt Lt Sailor Malan in a Spitfire of 74 Squadron encountered a Heinkel, a machine of 4./KG4 in which the Staffelkapitän Hptm Hermann Prochnow was flying. This was probably the aircraft previously engaged by Plt Off Barnwell. Malan pursued it to the coast and finally shot it down to crash into the sea near the Cork Light Vessel moored off Felixstowe. The captain and crew (Obfw Hermann Wojis, Uffz Franz Heyeres and Fw Richard Bunk) were killed and only the Staffelkapitän’s body was recovered. Malan’s subsequent combat report revealed:

During an air raid in the locality of Southend, various E/A were observed and held by searchlights for prolonged periods. On request of [74] Squadron I was allowed to take off with one Spitfire. I climbed towards E/A, which was making for the coast and held in searchlight beams at 8,000 feet. I positioned myself astern and opened fire at 200 yards and closed to 50 yards with one burst. Observed bullets entering E/A and had my windscreen covered in oil. Broke off to the left and immediately below as E/A spiralled out of beam.

The reconnaissance Heinkel – 5J+GA – was then engaged by Flt Lt Malan and crashed at Springfield Road in Chelmsford, ending up in the Bishop of Chelmsford’s garden at 00:30. Oblt Corpus, Obfw Walter Gross and Fw Walter Vick died in the crash, while Ltn Simon had managed to bale out. He was quickly captured. Malan’s report continued:

Climbed to 12,000 feet towards another E/A held by the searchlights on northerly course. Opened fire at 250 yards, taking good care not to overshoot his time. Gave five 2-second bursts and observed bullets entering all over E/A with slight deflection as he was turning to port. E/A emitted heavy smoke and I observed one parachute open very close. E/A went down in spiral dive. Searchlights and I followed him right down until he crashed in flames near Chelmsford.

As I approached target in each case, I flashed succession of dots on downward recognition light before moving into attack. I did not notice AA fire after I had done this. When following second E/A down, I switched on navigation lights for short time to help establish identity. Gave letter of period only once when returning at 3,000 feet from Chelmsford, when one searchlight searched for me. Cine-camera gun in action.

Raiders were reported in the Mildenhall and Honington areas, a salvo exploding a mile from the latter airfield, and, at 01:20, AA guns at RAF Wattisham opened fire while searchlights at Honington illuminated one Heinkel, whose gunner fired down the beams. At about the same time Flg Off John Petre, flying Spitfire L1032 of 19 Squadron, located a bomber near Newmarket. This was 5J+AM of 4./KG4, which then turned and headed towards RAF Honington. Petre opened fire, seeing smoke issue from a damaged engine, but had to sheer off hard to one side to avoid colliding with another aircraft that appeared alongside – a Blenheim – also firing at the Heinkel. At that moment, searchlights illuminated Petre’s Spitfire, allowing the Heinkel’s gunners to return accurate fire. The Spitfire, hit in the fuel tank, burst into flames. Petre was able to bale out but his face and hands were badly burned. On landing he was rushed to hospital in Bury St Edmunds. Meanwhile, his burning Spitfire hit the roof of Thurston House before crashing in its garden.

The Blenheim (K8687/X) was flown by Sqn Ldr Spike O’Brien of 23 Squadron. He opened fire, seeing smoke gushing from the Heinkel’s starboard engine, but had then lost control and went into a spin. The navigator Plt Off Cuthbert King-Clark – actually a qualified pilot flying to gain operational experience – baled out but was killed instantly when hit by a propeller. O’Brien baled out, landing safely, but the gunner Cpl David Little was killed in the crash. O’Brien reported:

Opened fire on E/A with our rear turret gun from below and in front as it was held by searchlights. The E/A turned to port and dived. I gave him several long bursts with the front guns from 50 to 100 yards range and saw clouds of smoke from the target’s starboard engine and a lesser amount from the port engine. I overshot the E/A and passed very close below and in front of him. My rear gunner put a burst into the cockpit at close range and the E/A disappeared in a diving turn, apparently out of control. I suddenly lost control of my own aircraft, which spun violently to the left. Failing to recover from the spin I ordered my crew to abandon the aircraft and I followed the navigator out of the hatch.

Flt Lt Duke-Woolley later related the story as told to him:

In the gunfight the Heinkel went down, then Spike’s Blenheim went out of control in a spin. At that time, popular opinion among pilots was that no pilot had ever got out of a spinning Blenheim alive, because the only way out was through the top sliding hatch and you then fell through one or other of the airscrews! The new boy (King-Clarke) probably didn’t know that but nevertheless he froze and Spike had to get him out. He undid his seat belt, unplugged his oxygen and pushed him up out of the top hatch while holding his parachute ripcord. He told me afterwards that he felt sick when the lad fell through the airscrew. Spike then had to get out himself. He grasped the wireless aerial behind the hatch, pulled himself up by it and then turned round so that his feet were on the side of the fuselage. Then he kicked outwards as hard as he could. He felt what he thought was the tip of an airscrew blade tap him on his helmet earpiece but luck was with him that night.

The damaged Heinkel crashed at Fleam Dyke near Six Mile Bottom in Cambridgeshire at 01:15. Oblt Joachim von Armin, Fw Wilhelm Maier and Fw Karl Hauck were captured, but Uffz Paul Görsch was killed. Flt Lt Duke-Woolley added an amusing sequel to the account:

Spike parachuted down safely to the outskirts of a village and went to the nearest pub to ring Wittering and ask for transport to fetch him home. He bought a pint and sat down to await transport and began chatting idly to another chap in uniform who was in the room when he arrived. After a while, thinking that the chap’s uniform was a bit unusual, Spike asked him if he was a Pole or a Czech. “Oh no” replied his companion in impeccable English, “I’m a German pilot actually. Just been shot down by one of your chaps.” At this point – so the story goes – Spike sprang to his feet and said. “I arrest you in the name of the King. Anyway, where did you learn English?” To which the German [presumably Oblt von Armin] replied, “That’s all right. I won’t try to get away. In fact, I studied for three years at Cambridge, just down the road. My shout, what’s yours?” So that’s just what they did, sat and had a drink.

Flg Off George Ball of 19 Squadron, in Spitfire K9807, was vectored to the Newmarket area to investigate another intruder, finding 5J+FP of 6./KG4 illuminated by searchlights. He pursued this, closing in to 50 yards, seeing his fire entering the Heinkel as it flew southwards, jettisoning its bombs on the way. The Heinkel, flown by Ltn Hans-Jürgen Bachaus, eventually ditched off Sacketts Gap, Margate, at 02:15. Bachaus and two members of his crew Uffz Theodor Kühn and Uffz Fritz Böck were rescued, but Fw Alfred Reitzig had attempted to bale out but his parachute snagged in the tailplane and he was killed.

One of the last claims on this dramatic night was made by AA gunners at Harwich, who believed they shot down into the sea a departing Heinkel at 01:13. This was probably an aircraft from I Gruppe that returned badly damaged by AA fire. There were no crew casualties. The last of the raiders was recorded crossing the coast at 02.50, releasing its bombs in the Clacton area. An empty house in Salisbury Road received a direct hit. Claims were submitted for 10 Heinkels but this was reduced to five and two probables. In fact, six were lost including the one that belly-landed near Calais. Two others returned damaged. Three Blenheims were also lost to return fire, as was one Spitfire. The commander of 5J+AM, Oblt Joachim von Armin, later reflected:

Until the night of our operation no British night fighter operations were reported. There we did not camouflage our aircraft, flew in at 4,500 metres [15,000 feet], and did not anticipate anything but anti-aircraft gunfire from the ground.

Duxford’s station commander Wg Cdr A. B. Woody Woodhall witnessed the action in which 5J+AM was shot down – and shot down its first assailant, the Spitfire of 19 Squadron:

John Petre’s Spitfire burst into flames and he had baled out. I was an eye witness to all this because it occurred over the aerodrome. My immediate concern was for John and after giving instructions for civil police to be alerted to round up the enemy, I sent search parties out. I next learned that John had been picked up suffering from nasty burns and taken to the nearest hospital. After giving orders that the prisoners when captured were to be placed in the guardroom if unhurt, in the sick quarters if injured, I set off in my car to see how John was faring in hospital.

Dawn was just breaking when I returned to Duxford and I was informed that the civil police had collected the prisoners and were bringing them to the guardroom. I left strict orders that there was to be no fraternizing. When the prisoners they were to be given a meal and cigarettes and left in cells until collected by the security people. I was told that there were two German NCOs in the cells, but that the pilot, an officer, had been taken over to the Officers Mess. I found the German pilot taking his ease in the guest room with a cocktail in hand, chatting to Philip Hunter [CO of 264 Squadron] and several of our pilots. Our boys immediately stood up as I came into the room and said ‘Good morning, sir’ but the Hun, an arrogant young Nazi of about 20, remained lounging in his armchair and insolently eyed me up and down, but not for long. I got him to his feet smartly. Needless to say, I had him transferred to the guardroom cell. The boys thought me very hard-hearted and strict. When I told the boys about how badly John Petre was burnt, I think they understood my anger.

The Manchester Guardian reported:

Three German airmen who lost their lives when their bomber was brought down in an Essex town during Tuesday night’s raid were buried in the town’s cemetery yesterday. Full military honours were paid by officers and men of the RAF and a firing party fired three volleys over the one large grave in which the three coffins covered with Nazi flags were interred. The Bishop of Chelmsford officiated. The Bishop’s wife was one of the mourners. There was a wreath from the RAF and another from girl telephonists of the AFS stationed in the town inscribed ‘When duty calls all must obey.’

At the end of the month Marshall Göring issued a general order regarding the air war against Great Britain. In it he stated:

The Luftwaffe War Command in the fight against England makes it necessary to co-ordinate as closely as possible, with respect to time and targets, the attacks of Luftflotten 2, 3 and 5. Distribution of the duties to the Luftflotten will, therefore, in general be tied to firm targets and firm dates of attack so that not only can the most effective results on important targets be achieved but the well-developed defence forces of the enemy can be split and be faced with the maximum forms of attack.

After the original disposition of the forces has been carried out in its new operational areas, that is after making sure of adequate anti-aircraft and fighter defence, adequate provisioning and an absolutely trouble-free chain of command, then a planned offensive against selected targets can be put in motion to fit in with the overall requirements of the commanders-in-chief of the Luftwaffe.

To save us time as well as ensuring that the forces concerned are ready:

(A) The war against England is to be restricted to destructive attacks against industry and air force targets which have weak defensive forces. These attacks under suitable weather conditions, which should allow for surprise, can be carried out individually or in groups by day. The most thorough study of the target and its surrounding area from the map and the parts of the target concerned, that is the vital parts of the target, is a pre-requisite for success. It is also stressed that every effort should be made to avoid unnecessary loss of life amongst the civil population.

(B) By means of reconnaissance and the engagement of units of smaller size it should be possible to draw out smaller enemy formations and by this means to ascertain the strength and grouping of the enemy defences. The engagement of the Luftwaffe after the initial attacks have been carried out and after all forces are completely battle-worthy has for its objectives:

(C) By attacking the enemy air force, its ground organisations, and its own industry to provide the necessary conditions for a satisfactory overall war against enemy imports, provisions and defence economy, and at the same time provide necessary protection for those territories occupied by ourselves.

(D) By attacking importing harbours and their installations, importing transports and warships to destroy the English system of replenishment. Both tasks must be carried out separately, but must be carried out in co-ordination one with another.

As long as the enemy air force is not defeated the prime requirement for the air force on every possible opportunity by day or by night, in the air or on the ground, without consideration of other tasks.

 

The Opening Round of the Battle of Britain II

The RAF’s Bomber Command showed the desperation of the situation when it issued counter-invasion instructions to its groups:

Now the enemy occupies the western seaboard of Europe, the threat of invasion is very real. If it comes it will be by air and sea preceded by attacks on communications, airfields and naval bases. 2 Group is to be reinforced, at a time to be decided later, by aircraft operating from these stations:

RAF Bassingbourn – 24 Audax and up to 18 Ansons

RAF Cottesmore – 24 Audax and up to 18 Ansons

RAF Upwood – 16 Blenheims and up to 18 Ansons

RAF Wyton – 15 Blenheims

In the event of a landing the Commander’s authority is to have control of 50% of the available effort of the affiliated stations. This call takes authority over all other tasks.

All aircraft not under army control are to attack enemy convoys at sea. If a landing is effected the main body of the convoys at sea may be attacked at places where the landing has been mad, depending on the situation at the time. Enemy forces caught at sea, and craft containing landing parties, are to be primary targets irrespective of enemy warships in the vicinity. If a landing has been affected and it is decided to attack beaches, enemy craft laying off the beaches and stores on them are to be primary targets.

AOC 2 Group added his own instructions to his squadrons:

You must bear in mind that your forces may have to play a most important part in repelling an invasion of this country, and you should be prepared at short notice to divert your squadrons to the attack of the invading enemy force at points of departure and subsequently at sea, and points of landing in this country. To meet the threat of invasion twelve aircraft are to stand by (at each station) every morning at 20 minutes’ notice from twilight to sunrise.

A plan to use every available aircraft in a last-ditch effort to repel a threatened German invasion was also devised, known as Operation Banquet. An Air Ministry meeting outlined a series of ambitious plans to make use of various aircraft in the event of an invasion, thus the AOC-in-C Training Command was ordered to plan to make the maximum practical number of aircraft available for operations. The overall plan was divided into a number of separate operations that could be enacted independently. Sub-groups of the plan, as envisaged, were: Training (Battle, Audax, Harvard, Hind etc.), Transport (Harrow), 2 Group (Blenheim, Battle), Technical (Wallace) and 6 and 7 Groups (Whitley, Anson, Hereford).

Aircraft allocated under Banquet would, in many cases, lack bombsights, armour for the protection of the crew, defensive guns and self-sealing fuel tanks. While these were to be fitted where possible, RAF instructions were very clear that no aircraft was to be considered unfit for want of such niceties. Anything that could fly and drop bombs would suffice. The air crew would be the experienced instructors as well as those students that had reached ‘a reasonably satisfactory standard of training’.

The most ominous – and potentially suicidal – of the plans was Banquet Light which would see the formation of striking forces composed of Tiger Moth biplanes and other light aircraft of the EFTS. De Havilland put forward plans for converting the Tiger Moth into a bomber by equipping it with eight under-fuselage racks beneath the rear cockpit, each able to carry a 20 lb bomb. As an alternative, the bomb-racks could be installed four on each side beneath the lower wings, this obviated trimming difficulties. The racks had been designed for the military version of the Dragons supplied to Iraq eight years previously. Modification of the relatively small number (16) of Magister trainers were also attempted, but this proved troublesome. Of this idea, Sgt Tom Naylor, Senior NCO Ops Room, recalled:

There was one man [in the Ops Room] with over 1,000 hours flying experience. That was Dudley Mason. He was quickly winkled out and given a different job just before the threat if invasion reached its climax … old Dudley was given a Tiger Moth somewhere down in Surrey, where they were busy welding milk crates under the wings to carry bombs with which to bomb the beaches when the Germans landed. He told me, “The darn thing won’t even fly, never mind carry bombs, with all that garbage on it!”

Another proposed use for the Tiger was the ‘Paraslasher’; fitted with a scythe-like blade intended to cut parachutists’ canopies as they descended to earth. Flight tests proved the idea, but it was not officially adopted. There was also the ‘Human Crop-Sprayer’ version, which had a tank fitted in the front cockpit with powder dispensers located under the wings. The tank would be filled with an extremely poisonous insecticide and probably violating the terms of the Geneva Convention. It was intended that low flying aircraft would dust the German troops as they waded ashore.

The Banquet Light strike force was to be employed in an Army co-operation role, which would likely mean being sent to bomb concentrations of airborne troops or soldiers landing on the beaches. They were to be based at advanced landing grounds around the country including Grangemouth, Inverness, Macmerry, York, Firbeck, Hooton, Hatfield, Snailwell, Bury St Edmunds, Sawbridgeworth, Gatwick, Odiham, Tilshead, Weston Zoyland. The intention was that the two-seater Tiger Moth bombers should be flown solo into an attack at low altitude until the enemy was identified and then climb to 800 feet and dive to 500 feet to release the bombs.

Most of the pilots for Banquet Light were to be students who had not yet graduated. The scheme required that trainee pilots were introduced to bombing at an early stage in their instruction – just in case they needed to go into action immediately. Instructors were told to take every opportunity to carry out practice bombing. However, with no dummy bombs available, training exercises were carried out with the aircraft flown from the front cockpit by instructors and house bricks were thrown over the side from the rear cockpit. It was discovered that the bricks fell faster than a diving Tiger Moth and instructions were given to throw the bricks forcibly away from the aircraft. About 350 aircraft were available. This was not an insignificant force, but the Moths and their inexperienced pilots would have been very vulnerable to enemy aircraft and the plan was widely regarded as virtually suicidal.

Other proposals included Lysanders fitted with twin 20 mm belly-cannon, and another fitted with a four-gun turret in the tail. Both modifications were made and the respective aircraft flew. There already existed a few cannon-armed Hurricanes and Spitfires, although these had proved problematical due to continuous gun stoppages. Undoubtedly, Harvard advanced trainers would have been made available, suitably equipped. By mid-summer, some 24 Masters had been converted to fighters by having the second seat removed along with some of the excessive cockpit glazing, and three. 303 Brownings installed in each wing. Practically everything that could fly would have been thrown into the battle. Consideration was also given to adapting civilian aircraft for Banquet Civil. However, the plan was not thought worthwhile and the idea was dropped.

During the latter part of May, a number of Station Defence Flights were strengthened with the arrival of redundant Gladiators. Manston operated G Flight with K6970, K7928 and K8033; Andover received N5702; Gosport received K6149, K7898 and K7995; RAE Farnborough received K5200; and Prestwick formed a Fighter Flight with N5912 and N5514. Elsewhere, various Station Flights were formed, some with two or three Hurricanes, some with one or two Spitfires. Decoy airfields (known as K-sites) sprang up where cows had previously grazed, and often dummy aircraft, made of wood and fabric, appeared overnight. Even similarly-constructed hangars and other buildings would soon adorn the ‘airfield’. Many hundreds of dummy ‘aircraft’ were produced, representing Spitfires, Hurricanes, Blenheims and Wellingtons amongst other types. Elsewhere similar sites were prepared to bamboozle German night bombers, being fields equipped with gooseneck flares, known as Q-sites, to mimic operational airfields.

Those in the know, however, were quietly confident that the one great advantage the RAF had over the Luftwaffe was its embryonic radar system, particularly as its operators gained experience; in fact, the first successful use of radar by ground control to guide an interceptor had occurred on 12 May, when a He111 from 2./LG1 was intercepted near Vlissingen by Blenheim P4834 of A&AEE from Martlesham Heath, crewed by Flt Lt Chris Smith and AC A. Newton. The bomber was damaged and its gunner, Gfr Walter Jenderny, wounded.

Although Britain had acquired an example of the German Enigma coding machine, its use and value during the coming summer months was limited, and had little bearing on the forthcoming battle. AOC Fighter Command, Air Chief Marshal Dowding, appreciated the difficulty of his task:

After the evacuation from Dunkerque [Dunkirk] the pressure on the Fighter Command became less intense, but it by no means disappeared. Hard fighting took place along the coast from Calais to Le Havre to cover the successive evacuations from that coast. Then the centre of gravity shifted to Cherbourg and its neighbourhood, and the Battle of Britain followed on without any appreciable opportunity to rest and reform the units which had borne the brunt of the fighting.

The fall of Belgium and France had increased the danger to the South and West of England, and had necessitated a considerable modification of the original arrangements when bombing attacks could start only from German soil.

As has been explained above, few squadrons were fresh and intact when the Battle began. No sufficient respite has been granted since the conclusion of the Dunkerque fighting to rest the squadrons which had not left the Fighter Command and to rebuild those which had undergone the ordeal of fighting from aerodromes in northern France. These last had been driven from aerodrome to aerodrome, able only to aim at self-preservation from almost continuous attack by bombers and fighters; they were desperately weary and had lost the greater part of their equipment, since aircraft which were unserviceable only from slight defects had to be abandoned.

At the insistence of Prime Minister Churchill, the Air Ministry now asked the Admiralty for the loan of 50 FAA fighter pilots to partially make good losses suffered in France and over Dunkirk. Fighter Command reported its pilot losses as 284 killed, missing or prisoners of war, plus 63 wounded or injured during May and June including those who became casualties due to flying accidents. The Admiralty responded by placing 804 (Sea Gladiators) and newly formed 808 Squadrons under Fighter Command control, although the former remained at Hatston for local defence while the latter, formed on 1 July, was under training at RNAS Worthy Down with a few Skuas, and a dozen Fulmars that were just being introduced into service.

Cecil James at the Air Historical Branch of the Air Ministry later wrote:

The measures that were taken to increase pilot output during June and July chiefly concerned Flying Training Command. But the earliest important accession of strength, and the more welcome because it came so shortly after the heavy losses in France, was the result of an agreement with the Admiralty for the loan of Fleet Air Arm pilots. The matter was first discussed in the War Cabinet as the Dunkirk evacuation drew to a close; and the Prime Minister instructed the Air and Naval staffs to see whether any naval pilots could be transferred to Fighter Command. He had in mind an allocation of fifty pilots by the end of June.

On 6 June the Admiralty issued instructions for the release of 45 pilots (including seven [sic] RAFVR pilots who had been serving with the Fleet Air Arm), half of them trained, half semi-trained. The Air Ministry, however, asked for half the output of the two flying training schools serving the Fleet Air Arm to be allotted to the RAF, beginning with thirty pilots by the end of June. The Admiralty could not agree on the grounds that the casualties amongst their pilots in April and May had been nearly four times as large as postulated and that, in addition, the war with Italy meant more work for the Fleet Air Arm than had been visualised earlier. Thirty more pilots – making sixty-eight naval pilots in all – were loaned during June; but ten were recalled early in July for service in the Mediterranean; and later in the month the First Lord informed the Secretary of State for Air that no further attachments would be possible. The loans, however, were timely and, considering the Admiralty’s difficulties, substantial.

As it transpired, neither 804 or 808 Squadrons were required for operational duties per se, the FAA’s major contribution being the 27 pilots seconded to RAF squadrons during the coming weeks: Sub-Lt(A) A. G. Blake joined 19 Squadron; Sub-Lt(A) G. G. R. Bulmer to 32 Squadron; Sub-Lts(A) J. H. C. Sykes, F. Dawson-Paul and G. B. Pudney to 64 Squadron; Sub-Lt(A) D. A. Hutchison and T/ Sub-Lt(A) I. J. Wallace to 74 Squadron; Mid(A) M. A. Birrell to 79 Squadron; SubLts(A) D. H. Richards, R. W. M. Walsh, T. V. Worrall and Mid(A) P. R. J. Gilbert to 111 Squadron; Sub-Lts(A) I. H. Kestin and F. A. Smith to 145 Squadron; SubLt(A) H. W. Beggs and Mid(A) O. M. Wightman to 151 Squadron; Sub-Lts(A) H. G. K. Bramah, D. M. Jeram and W. J. M. Moss to 213 Squadron; Sub-Lt(A) J. C. Carpenter to 229 Squadron; Sub-Lt(A)s R. J. Cork, R. E. Gardner and Mid(A) P. J. Patterson to 242 Squadron; Mid(A) R. F. Bryant to 245 Squadron; Sub-Lt(A) H. laF. Greenshields to 266 Squadron; and Mid(A) P. L. Lennard to 501 Squadron. In addition, Sub-Lt(A) David Marks had been killed while flying a Hurricane of 7 OTU in preparation for his transfer to an RAF squadron. It should be noted that most of these pilots were not considered operational and were sent to RAF OTUs initially for conversion training and a rapid course in fighter tactics. Some did not reach squadrons until late August/early September. Others lasted only a few days and were sent away for further training.

FAA observers, in particular, were occasionally seconded to Bomber and Coastal Commands during this period, and even earlier. With the build-up of invasion barges and other craft in the harbours at Calais and Boulogne, these immediately became a priority target not only for the FAA but also Battle light bombers of Bomber Command, particularly 103, 142 and 150 Squadrons. To assist the RAF crews a number of newly qualified FAA pilots and observers were attached to these units. Others were seconded to fly heavy bombers, mainly Whitleys involved in over-sea flying.

Eight RAFVR fighter pilots who had been seconded to the FAA and were currently undergoing a refresher fighter course at Donibristle with 769(T) Squadron were released to return to Fighter Command; these being Sgt D. K. Ashton to 32 Squadron; Sgt D. Ayres to 600 Squadron; Sgt H. W. Ayre to 266 Squadron; Sgt O. R. Bowerman to 222 Squadron; Sgt E. N. Kelsey to 611 Squadron; Sgt R. O’Donnell to 19 Squadron; Sgt J. Pickering to 64 Squadron; Sgt W. J. Timms to 43 Squadron. Two who had deliberately failed the FAA course – Sgt F. N. Robertson and New Zealander Sgt R. J. Hyde – were already flying Spitfires with 66 Squadron. Another former RN pilot, Plt Off A. R. H. Barton (who had been trained to fly Swordfish) arrived to posting to 32 Squadron following a brief conversion course.