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
Hermann Goering in June 1940.
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
"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
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:
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
"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
"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
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
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.)
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
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
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.