The Battle of Britain 1940
Britain Prepares for Battle

 
It was General Erhard Milch who was the State Secretary for the German Air Ministry who made the proposal to Berlin that German Military forces should immeadiately make paratroop landings at strategic positions in South-East England to make way for a full scale invasion across the Channel with whatever amount of forces and equipment that could be assembled soon after Britain had made its withdrawl from Dunkirk. But Hitler believed that, like he had done with the French, he could force Britain to sign and accept a peace treaty. He firmly believed that Britain had seen how, with his forcefullness and military might he had overpowered such countries Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium and France, and that with a record such as this Britain would not want to risk devastation of military combat with Germany.
"My Luftwaffe is invincible. And now we turn to England. How long will this one last - two, three weeks?

Hermann Goering in June 1940.
"We might, had the plans been ready, have crossed to England with strong forces after the Dunkirk operation".
General Guenther Blumentritt in June 1940.
"How long would they last in battle, they ran from Dunkirk, they deserted France completly for the saftey of home, England is there for the taking."
General Hugo Sperrle June 1940.
"We may therefore, be sure that there is a plan, perhaps built up over years for destroying Great Britain, which after all has the honour to be his main and foremost enemy."
Winston Churchill in July 1940.
But Adolph Hitler underestimated Britains new Prime Minister Winston Churchill who was not about to bow to tyrany and dictatorship by accepting the terms of peace as set down by the Reichmacht by stating that Germany would have to relinquish all territorial gains before Britain would negotiate.

"No news yet of the expected peace terms, we are living as people did during the French Revolution - every day is a document - every hour is history. Winston wound up with his usual brilliance and out of place levity. His command of English is magnificent, but strangely enough, although he makes me laugh, he leaves me unmoved. There is always the quite unescapable suspicion that he loves war which broke Neville Chamberlains better heart."
From the 'Diaries of Sir Henry Channon MP' in June 1940.

Throughout the June of 1940 it was still not clear to most as to the intentions of Hitler and a proposed invasion of England. On the 17th June the Assistant to General Jodl stated that with the regard to an invasion, the Fuhrer had not so far uttered any such intention. On the 25th June General Hans Jeschonnek the Luftwaffe Chief of Staff said that the Fuhrer has no intention of mounting an invasion on England, "...there will be no invasion and I have no time to waste on planning one." he said. Yet on the 30th June, Walter Hewel who was Hitler's Diplomatic Liason Officer stated that "It matters a lot what the British expect the Fuher's purpose to be in fighting their country.....Can the British swallow their envy and pride enough to see him(Hitler) not the conqueror but the creator of a new Europe." But in the May of 1940, we can safely be assured that Hitler had no intention of invading England, he had often mentioned that it was a possiblity just as it was a possiblity of invading the United States, but these were only possiblities, there is a great difference in what would be termed 'as a possiblity' and an actual 'plan for invasion'.
Way back in November 1939, Admiral Raeder the Commander-in-Chief of the German Navy gave the order for the 'possiblity of invading England' to be examined. The Naval strategists stated that a seaborne assault on a grand scale across the North Sea would appear to be a possible expedient for forcing the enemy to sue for peace. The German Army then had made comments and suggestions that many were not acceptable to the Navy. The Luftwaffe in December 1939 made their views known which were at the time thought to be most sceptical. Peter Flemming in his book "Invasion 1940" states 'All variants of this early plan envisaged landings on the east coast. At no stage was it refered to OKW (Oberkommando der Wermacht) and there is no reason to suppose that Hitler knew that any preliminary planning for invasion had been done until Raeder had told him about it on 21st May.' Raeder had another meeting with Hitler on 4th June 1940, and despite the Navy's strong thoughts on an invasion, the subject was not even mentioned by either party. On 17th June General Jodl's deputy Warlimont mentions that "...with regards to a landing in Britain, the Fuhrer has not up to now expressed any such intention as he fully appreciates the unusual difficulties of such an operation.
If Germany was to make an invasion of England, then surely the best time was when Britain was at their lowest ebb, that was soon after the evacuation of Dunkirk, but even at this time, Hitler still had no plans for an invasion. Admiral Raeder of the German Navy, the German Army and the Supreme forces of the Lufwaffe had all put forward their plans, but Hitler requested a peace treaty. When this was turned down by Winston Churchill, Hitler stated that he had now no alternative but to contemplate an invasion of England. This was done on July 2nd an order was issued by OKW and signed by Keitel:

  • "The Fuhrer and Supreme Commander has decided......that a landing in England is possible, provided that air superiority can be attained and certain other necessary conditions fulfilled."
So by now, the plans for an invasion were slowly becoming a reallity, but the order just mentioned was still only to be regarded only at this stage as a plan. The plan called for 25-40 divisions which would be the invading forces and imperative that these forces be highly mechanised and numerically superior to the opposing armies. Just two weeks later, the order issued by OKW was given complete approval, was ratified and was further backed up by the issuing of Directive No.16 which was Hitler's order that Britain be invaded.
  • "Since England, in spite of her hopeless military situation, shows no signs of being ready to come to a compromise, I have decided to prepare a landing operation against England, and, if necessary, to carry it out" Adolph Hitler in July 1940"

To the people in Britain things were uneventfully quiet. Even way back in September 1939 when Neville Chamberlain announced that Britain had declared war on Germany, the British people had immeadiate visions of German bombers coming over the Channel and bombing the cities, they thought of thousands of German paratroopers landing in the countryside, they visualised thousands of tanks and guns being shipped across the Channel. But it was the exact opposite, things were all quiet on the British home front. There were no Germans, no bombers, no tanks and.....well in fact to most, it was business as usual. People went to work in the same way as they had done for years, they caught the same bus or train, they shopped at the same shops, they still went to local football matches, they only thing that was different....was the conversation. What they heard on the wireless or read in the newspapers was what was going on which at that stage did not affect the average everyday 'bloke' in the street. Some of these were:

MONDAY 4th SEPTEMBER. The RAF bombed German naval bases at the entrance to Kiev Canal, and that the crews of Bomber Command were proud to have struck the first blow in the war.
WEDNESDAY 6th SEPTEMBER. South Africa declares war on Germany.
SUNDAY 10th SEPTEMBER. Canada declares war on Germany.
SUNDAY 17th SEPTEMBER. The Royal Navy Aircraft-Carrier HMS Courageous was sunk by a German submarine. Over 600 lives were lost while nearly 700 managed to survive. It was this account that brought home to the British people that their country was at war.
FRIDAY 22nd SEPTEMBER. Two flying boats went to the rescue of survivors of the 5,000 ton Kensington Court which was sunk in the Atlantic Ocean by a German submarine.
THURSDAY 12th OCTOBER. Neville Chamberlain rejects peace proposals but forward by Adolph Hitler.
MONDAY 16th OCTOBER. German aircraft make the first attack on Britain by trying to bomb the Forth Bridge at Edinburgh. Although not a target of great importance, it was regarded that the bombing run was just an exercise for the german Luftwaffe pilots. No damage was done and three German aircraft were shot down.
SUNDAY 12th NOVEMBER. Both Britain and France rejected any peace proposal until the menace of German aggression was removed and any injustices done to Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland were redressed.

THE GERMAN PLAN OF INVASION
So nothing was happenning on any of the streets of Britain, but there was plenty being done behind the scenes. Germany was taking its time in deciding which would be the best and most effective way in which to invade Britain. It is true, that landings will have to be made, these would come in the form of amphibious operations 'en masse' across the Channel which would be closely followed by paratroopers and gliders from the air. Although river crossings had always been a part of the German Army training, the channel crossing would present a different problem, namely it would be the widest crossing ever made, but for those that participate, they would have to contend with strong currents, possible high winds and there was always the possiblity of attack from the air by the RAF. The decision was made that the Lufwaffe would prepare the way for a German invasion. Before any amphibious or paratroop landings could be made, the Royal Air Force would have to be eliminated, and Hitler and his Commander-in-Chiefs agreed that the Luftwaffe would have to establish total air supremacy over the English Channel and Southern England. This would then allow German aircraft to support the amphibious landings on the beaches. The plan was to eliminate the RAF on the ground, destroying aerodromes and aircraft before they had a chance to take off. Heavy bombers would be launched for the initial attack supported by Me110 aircraft which had a longer range than their front line fighters, but these would be used to attack any aircraft that would manage to take off. Goering thought that this would be an easy task as he impressed upon his flight leaders "that not only do the RAF not have enough aircraft to win an air battle, their pilots are untrained in air combat and to clear the skies ready for our invasion should take no more than two......three weeks".
Once the Luftwaffe had maintained air superiority, the plan was to land a number of German Army Groups around the south-eastern coastal beaches of England. Army Group A led by General Field Marshall Karl Von Rundstedt would control the main force making the crossing close to the narrowest part of the Channel near Dover. The sixteeenth Army under General Ernst Busch would make their landings to the right of the main force near the townships of Ramsgate and Margate. General Strauss's ninth Army would land to the left of Army Group A in the region of Hastings. The landings in Southern England would be made by Army Group B who would launch their operations from Cherbourg in France and cross at the more wider section of the English Channel and make their landings between two points, namely Weymouth and Sidmouth in the Devon and Dorset area of England. The main force of Army Group B would land in the viscinity of Lyme Bay and this Army Group would then push northwards capturing the industrial port of Bristol before driving north-east towards the busy centres of Birmingham and Wolverhamton.
The landings would be broken up into waves, the initial wave to land on Army Group B's beaches would comprise no less than ten infantry divisions made up of 120,000 infantry soldiers, 4,650 horses, 700 tanks, 1,500 army vehicals. Each side of the landings would be supported by some 30,000 paratroopers whose job it would be to cut communications, secure bridges, railways and small villages. The landings in the Dover and Ramsgate areas would also be carried out in waves and the final objective here would undoubtedly be London.
That, basically was Hitlers plan, there is no doubt that Germany had the manpower, there was also no doubt that they also had the tanks, aircraft and military knowhow. But some of the German Generals had repeatedly said that the plan was to rushed, that not enough research had gone into any of the tactics to be used. Others said that more has to be done as to find the exact strength of the British military forces before any such plan is to be put into operation. But Hitler, the man who at one stage did not want to have anything to do with an invasion of Britain, was now determined that these rushed plans for "Operation Sealion" the invasion of Britain should go ahead and the due date for this would be in mid-August 1940. We must remember here that it was not until 13th July that the German Staff had put before Adolph Hitler the draft plans for an invasion. By the 31st July Hitler had been convinced that the operation must go ahead and his approval was stamped on "Operation Sealion" with the date of the invasion to be postponed from mid-August until 17th September 1940.
The initial plans for the Luftwaffe to wipe out the Royal Air Force started to take shape. They used the airfields in such countries as Belgium, Holland and France and used them as Luftwaffe bases and after stocking them up with aircraft, fuel, ammunition and bombs, installing a base communications system slowly converted them into operational bases.
Goering divided these now occupied countries into five operational sections. Each of these sections would be known as as Luftflotten or Air Fleets. Luftflotte1 and 4 were based in Germany and Poland, Luftflotte 2 was based in north-easten France, Luftflotte 3 in central and northern France and Luftflotte 5 was based in Scandinavia Two of these Luftflotten were to be used on the attacks on the RAF and for the Germans be part of the Battle of Britain. Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring had his General HQ in Brussels attained fame in the German invasion of Poland, and was placed in charge of Luftflotte2 and it was this Luftflotte that was to have the greatest responsibility in the air war that was to preceed the invasion. Luftflotte2 covered an area from the north-east corner of France, which was the shortest distance that his aircraft would have to travel across the Channel, and the entire coastline of Belgium and Holland. Generalfeldmarschall Hugo Sperle who had operational success in the Kondor Legion in the Spanish Civil War was appointed commander of Luftflotte3 and had his operational HQ in Paris. Generaloberst Hans-Juergen Stumph was given the position to command Luftflotte5 which covered Norway and Denmark. The main problem with Luftflotte5 was that because of the distance between base and the English coast, it was impossible for the fighter aircraft to provide any cover for the bombers because they were limited by the range of their fuel load.
Unlike the Royal Air Force who had Fighter Command and Bomber Command as separate identities with each of them having their own Commander-in-Chief's, each of the Luftflotten's C-in-C had both fighters and bombers at his command. Each of the Luftflotte's were divided into smaller sections called Gruppe's. These were Jagdgeschwader (JG) The fighter Wing, Kampfgeschwader (KG) The Bomber Wing, Stukageschwader (StG) The Dive-Bombing Wing, Zerstorergeschwader (ZG) The Destroyer Wing and the Lehrgeschwader (LG) which was the wing where pilots learnt the art of flying and combat. JG normally flew Bf109's, KG flew Heinkels and Junker 88's, StG flew the Stuka dive-bomber and ZG the Bf110.
The three Luftflotten that formed the front line of attack were of considerable strength having 864 medium and heavy bombers, 248 dive-bombers, 735 single engine fighter aircraft and 200 twin engined Bf110 aircraft. A total of 2047 aircraft at Goering's disposal to attack Britain. In comparison, Britain at the same time had just 540 servicable aircraft in which to defend with. We should note here, that most of these Luftwaffe planes, and the pilots that flew them were also used in the Spanish Civil War and in the German invasion of Norway, Poland and Belgium. But it was in these conflicts that they were used in conjunction with the German ground attack forces. What was to face them in the Battle of Britain was that they would have to fight this battle totally alone, for this was to be a conquest that would provide them with no assistance from the ground, this was to be a battle that would be fought entirely in the air. This then, was going to test their strengths and their weaknesses, because if Operation Sealion, the invasion of England was to succeed, the Luftwaffe had to at all costs, destroy the RAF both on the ground and in the air and gain control in the air. Once this was done, it would leave the path open for the German bombers to engage operations on bombing all of Britains industrial centres, and allowing the German Navy free access to cross the Channel virtually unhindered.
This then was the plan. The operation was to be conducted in four phases. The first phase was for the Luftwaffe to make a number of probing attacks at a number of southern England positions testing out the defences of the Engish military and looking for any weaknesses. At the same time, other Luftwaffe 'Gruppes' would attack the coastal shipping that was plying backwards and forwards through the English Channel. England at this time, relied heavily on the merchant shipping that was bringing in the needed raw materials that was required in building up their forces. The second phase was to destroy the Royal Air Force. The bombers attacking as many RAF airfields as they possibly can, the longer range Bf110 fighters taking on any RAF fighters in the air in the viscinity of the British fighter bases, the Bf109's attacking any British fighters in the air over the Channel, and the Ju87 dive bombers destroying the radar stations that were situated all along the southern English coastline. This then would leave the way open for the third phase which would see German troops, tanks and amoured vehicals make their assault at nominated places along the English coast from Dover in the east to Falmouth in the west.
(The reality of it was that the first two phases went according to plan, but the third phase was put into jeopardy by the accidental bombing of London. The planned German third phase was never put into operation.)

THE BRITISH PLAN OF DEFENCE
Dunkirk, to some could only be termed as a disaster as it followed quickly on the heels of the British withdrawl from Norway, now the British Expeditionary Force, hopelessly outnumbered were being pushed back into a small pocket in the corner of north-eastern France. The plan to stop the Germans from making any advance into France had failed and the only option here was a complete evecuation from the beaches at Dunkirk. To others, Dunkirk would go down in history as the most remarkable effort of evacuation ever undertaken, it was an evacuation that even surprised the Germans, it was an evacuation that could never have been pulled off........but it did. 338,225 men, made up mostly of members of the BEF but including some 120,000 French were taken from the shores of France by the most amazing flotilla of boats ever assembled. [See Dunkirk]


But Dunkirk had taken its toll, the men were tired and exhausted, hundreds of pieces of military hardware had to be left behind but the worst was that for many of the soldiers it was their first taste of battle, they became disillusioned and disappointed that once again they had suffered defeat at the might of the German Army. The Royal Air Force continued the fight in France, successes were mixed with defeats, they managed to survive even through a lack of organisation, but the German armoured divisions were advancing rapidly through France and Friday June 14th 1940 Germans marched into Paris. The RAF started their withdrawl from France, 501 Squadron being one of the last to depart, but even with the 400 or so obsolescent fighter aircraft and bombers, the RAF could hold their heads high even though they were fighting against overwhelming odds.
To the Royal Air Force, the withdrawl from France was not looked upon as a defeat, because during their stay in France, they learnt about Luftwaffe combat tactics. The tight 'V' formation which was the general and accepted formation was dropped in favour of the 'Schwarm' that was four fighters flying in pairs and the leader was always at the head of the formation, his number one always fly's on the sun side of his leader protecting him at all times, while on the opposite side of the number one is the leader of the second pair and his wingman fly's behind and slightly to one side. Pilots often complained that the fighters guns were harmonized at too far a range. This was corrected so that the bullets from the guns intersected at 250 yards instead of 400 yards as was the case previously. It was found that the Hurricane, which had its guns grouped much closer together than the Spitfire, and had a much denser bullet pattern, it was far more suited to attacking bombers rather than fighter aircraft. It was also borne in mind, that the Hurricane was not as manouverable as the Bf109, so it was better that the Hurricane was best suited to attacking the bombers while the Spitfire was best suited to attacking the Bf109 especially as it could match the performance of the German fighter.
After the withdrawl from France, for some reason the German Armies seemed to take a 'break'. With the British Army still trying to gather themselves from the defeat at Dunkirk, and the remnants of the RAF making a hasty retreat from France, this would have been the ideal time to commence on the invasion of England. They did not strike while the iron was still hot. They had struck the first blow, why didn't they follow it through. It appeared that Germany was their own worst enemy. Instead, they decided to take what could be termed......a holiday. It was a known fact now, that an invasion of Britain was iminant, but when would they strike, why were the Germans holding back. At least it gave Britain time to re-group. More fighter planes arrived at the airfields adding further strength to Fighter Command, more pilots were being assigned to squadrons all over England, new combat tactics were being taught to pilots old and new, a lot of lessons were learnt in France in fact it has been said, that '...what we experienced in France, was only a taste of what was to follow in the defence of England'. More and more fighter aircraft were being fitted with the variable airscrews which would give the fighters far better performance.
By July 3rd 1940, Britain was experiencing exceptionally warm summer days and balmy nights and this allowed the Army, Navy, Air Force, defence personel and members of the many auxillary authorities to secure the defence arrangements that were required to thwart any threat of invasion. The Royal Navy was busy laying minefields in the Channel and at the entrances to the many ports around the coast, nets were being laid across the entrances to all the major seaports. More and more radar stations were being installed at specifuc points all around the south-eastern and southern coastline of England. Coastal Command were busy on reconnaissance photographic flights photographing all the major seaports that were possible targets of invasion. And hundreds of miles of curled and twisted coils of barbed wire were being laid by the Army along beaches and cliff tops and along the promenades of the many seaside resorts helped by some 150,000 civilians who offered their services. They also helped construct the hundreds of pill-boxes, tank traps and sandbag barriers as well as assisted in the removal and obliteration of roadsigns and any other sign that depicted a landmark such as signs and guides on railway stations.
Mothers and children had the oppertunity to be evacuated to areas that were possibly not under threat of danger, but those that stayed behind were given orders to stay put. Among those that were required to stay were bankers, water, gas and electricity workers, bus and train crews, lifeboat crews, firemen, ambulance workers, hospital staff, members of local councils and authorities and farm workers.
In London itself, all references to to districts and place names were oblitereated, a number of statues and monuments were hoarded up and covered in posters like the one seen here advising people that 'Careless Talk Costs Lives' and that even 'Walls Have Ears'. A strict set of rules was implimented and violation of these orders was made an offence with serious repercussions. A blanket blackout was enforced, where all street lamps would be extinguished during hours of darkness, all residential homes had to darken or cover their windows so that not one speck of light would shine through. People were told that a one inch hole in their curtains would appear like a searchlight to an aircraft flying overhead. Church bells would toll if there was any indication of a landing, and newscasters of the BBC were to identify themselves by name before reading any news item of the day, and any motor vehical that was left unattended was to be immobilised. Britain was doing everything in its power to prepare itself for the planned German invasion. All these precautions were made to assist those that were not to take an active part in the defence of Britain or to cause confusion and delay to any invasion forces should they happen to land on British soil. But, all this was dependant on one thing, and that is for the German military forces to attempt an invasion of Britain they would have to come by sea, by air or both. To counterattack this measure we now must soley rely on our pilots and crews of the Royal Air Force and in particular, Fighter Command. The Battle of Britain was about to begin.