Junkers Ju

The Junkers dive bomber had an angular and rather ugly design, but it was an extremely sturdy aircraft. It gave its pilot light controls and good flying characteristics. Its crew members enjoyed good visibility and it was reputed to be capable of hitting its target with an accuracy of less than 100 ft.

Once the Ju87 encountered determined opposition, such as was to be found over the United Kingdom, its career dramatically entered its eclipse. By July 20, Luftflotten 2 and 3 had 316 Ju87s available for the assault on Britain. The first Ju87 sorties in strength actually took place on August 8, suffering severe losses despite Bf109Es providing top cover.

The Stuka had been revealed for what it was — an inadequately armed and highly vulnerable warplane.

The Oberkommando der Luftwaffe had no recourse but to withdraw the Ju87 from the Cherbourg area to the Pas de Calais where it was to sit out the closing phases of the Battle.

AIRCRAFT

Hawker HURRICANE A

Hawker HURRICANE B

Supermarine SPITFIRE A

Supermarine SPITFIRE B

Messerschmitt BF109

Messerschmitt BF110

Nationality

British

British

British

British

German

German

Crew

1

1

1

1

1

2

Weight Empty

2,180 kg

2,260 kg

2,049 kg

2,138 kg

1,905 kg

4,750 kg

Weight Loaded

2,845 kg

2,924 kg

2,651 kg

2,744 kg

2,710 kg

6,250 kg

Wing Span

12.19 m

12.19 m

11.23 m

11.23 m

9.9 m

16.3 m

Wing Area

23.97 m2

23.97 m2

22.48 m2

22.48 m2

16.2 m2

38.4 m2

Engine

RR Merlin II

RR Merlin III

RR Merlin II

RR Merlin III

DB 601A

2 x DB 601A

Engine Power

1,030 hp

1,030 hp

1,030 hp

1,030 hp

1,175 hp

2 x 1,175 hp

Armament

8 x 0.303 in Browning

8 x 0.303 in Browning

8 x 0.303 in Browning

8 x 0.303 in Browning

2 x 20 mm MG-FF Cannon

2 x 20 mm MG-FF Cannon 1 x 7.92 mm MG-15

Bomb Load

500 lbs

Max Speed

340 mph

328 mph

346 mph

335 mph

348 mph

349 mph

Ceiling

33,900 ft

34,200 ft

34,400 ft

34,700 ft

36,000 ft

32,000 ft

Range

340 miles

325 miles

415 miles

395 miles

412 miles

530 miles

AIRCRAFT

Bristol BLENHIEM

Junkers JU87

Junkers JU88

Heinkel HE111

Dornier DO17

Nationality

British

German

German

German

German

Crew

3

2

4

5

5

Weight Empty

3,674 kg

2,750 kg

9,860 kg

8,680 kg

5,210 kg

Weight Loaded

5,670 kg

4,250 kg

14,000 kg

14,000 kg

8,590 kg

Wing Span

17.2 m

13.8 m

18.25 m

22.6 m

18 m

Wing Area

43.6 m2

31.9 m2

50.2 m2

87.6 m2

55 m2

Engine

2 x Mercury VIII

Jumo 211A

2 x Jumo 211B

2 x DB 601A

2 x Bramo 323P

Engine Power

2 x 840 hp

1,200 hp

2 x 1,200 hp

2 x 1,175 hp

2 x 1,000 hp

Armament

2 x 0.303 in Browning

2 x 7.9mm MG-17 1 x 7.9mm MG-15

3 x 7.92 mm MG-15

3 x 7.92 mm MG-15

up to 8 x 7.92mm MG-15

Bomb Load

1,000 lbs

1,100 lbs

4,000 lbs

4,400 lbs

2,200 lbs

Max Speed

285 mph

232 mph

286 mph

247 mph

265 mph

Ceiling

27,280 ft

26,500 ft

26,500 ft

26,250 ft

26,400 ft

Range

1,125 miles

370 miles

1,553 miles

1,224 miles

OTHER AIRCRAFT

Boulton-Paul DEFIANT

Nationality

British

Crew

2

Weight Empty

2,757 kg

Weight Loaded

3,773 kg

Wing Span

12 m

Wing Area

23.2 m2

Engine

RR Merlin II

Engine Power

1030 hp

Armament

4 x 0.303 in Browning

Bomb Load

Max Speed

304 mph

Ceiling

30,350 ft

Range

465 miles

During the 1930's, the British Air Ministry commissioned two new monoplane fighters, the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire, both of which were in squadron service by 1938. These aircraft were very different to the comparatively slow and delicate biplanes that the RAF's pilots had flown in the First World War.

Fighter tactics were drawn up from theories based upon fighters intercepting lone and unescorted bombers. This was because Britain exceeded the range of German fighters, flying from German bases, so fighter-to-fighter combat was considered to be of secondary importance, not to mention unlikely. Thus in Britain, Fighter Command's pilots flew their monoplane fighters in tight 'vics' of three, practising carefully co-ordinated set-piece attacks against either lone or small numbers of enemy bombers. Actual combat experience during the Spanish Civil War had already taught the Germans that such tactics were already obsolete.

Hitler had secretly rebuilt his Luftwaffe with new aircraft of the latest monoplane design, including both bombers and fighters. Taking the Blitzkrieg formula into account, German fighter design included features suitable for attacking both fighters and bombers. For example, the Messerschmitt 109, like the Hurricane and Spitfire a fast, single-engined fighter, was not only armed with two 7.9 mm machine-guns, but also two 20 mm cannon. Although the latter had a much slower rate of fire, the effects were devastating. The 109's engine was also fuel injected, meaning that it was unaffected by gravity whilst in a diving attitude. By comparison, the British fighters did not enjoy the benefits of cannon, but were instead armed with eight .303 machine-guns. Also, no thought had been given in England to fuel injection, the British fighters' Rolls Royce Merlin engines relying on the simple float carburettor system, this later giving the German fighter superiority in the dive.

During the Spanish Civil War Germany developed a new formation known as the Schwarm, this comprising four fighters spread out very loosely in a stepped up line abreast similar to the fingers of an outstretched hand, there being as much as 200 metres between each aircraft. In this way, German pilots were able to search for the enemy without fear of

collision. When battle was joined the Schwarm would split into the Rotte of two fighting pairs, leader and wingman. Indeed, this remains the basic fighter formation even today. Germany also first used dive-bombers in Spain, the much-feared Stukas, and medium bombers in support of fast moving armour and infantry.

On May 10th, 1940, German forces attacked Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and France. In what came as a surprise attack, German armour poured through the supposedly impassable Ardennes forest, effectively and immediately outflanking the Maginot Line in the process. The Allies having been collectively overwhelmed, they were finally evacuated from the beaches around Dunkirk, the Royal Navy and 'Little Ships' rescuing some 330,000 Allied troops. Left behind, however, was all artillery, armour and much other equipment. And the RAF component, the Advanced Air Striking Force, had also suffered grievous losses. Sensibly, British Fighter Command had retained its precious Spitfires for home defence, the more numerous Hurricane squadrons having been sent to fight in the ill-fated French campaign.

Given that the First World War had raged for five years, the fact that France had fallen in a matter of six weeks was completely stunning.

The opportunity to invade England had been an unexpected bonus for Hitler. Although the RAF clearly faced problems across the English Channel, so too did the Germans. Barges suitable to carry an invasion force across the Channel had to be found, converted, and concentrated in and around Calais. Despite the fact that the Luftwaffe had been designed to support fast moving ground forces, however, it now found itself required to operate in a strategic role. German bombers were of a medium capacity, so lacked the performance and bomb carrying capacities of the later four-engined Allied bombers. Also, excellent though the Me 109 was, it was intended for use not as an offensive escort fighter but in a defensive role meaning that its range was too limited, providing just 20 minutes flying time over London. Nevertheless, the Germans had great advantages in experience and enjoyed numerical superiority.

Thirteen German divisions, each some 19,000 strong, were moved to the Channel coast as the vanguard of a landing force comprising 39 divisions. Plans were made for the disembarkation of 125,000 men during the invasion's first three days. The German service chiefs agreed that Operation Seelowe (Sealion, the proposed seaborne invasion of England) would only be feasible if the Luftwaffe defeated the RAF, achieving total aerial supremacy prior to the fleet setting sail.

Britain did have one particular advantage: radar, or more correctly 'Radio Direction Finding'. The extra few minutes warning given by this new detection system would make it possible for the defending fighters to 'scramble' (emergency take-off) and attain an appropriate height and position favourable for interception. By the summer of 1940, the radar chain around the British Isles comprised 22 'Chain Home' stations and 30 'Chain Home Low' stations. Each was positioned to ensure, at least in theory, that every aircraft approaching Britain from the east or south would be detected by at least two stations. Radar therefore became the keystone of Air Defence, with its network of RDF stations, Observer Corps posts and centres, sector operations rooms, radio-telephony transmitters, landlines and ancillary devices. Germany failed to fully understand its significance, which would be a major factor during the Battle of Britain.

For the air defence of Great Britain, Fighter Command divided the British Isles into four Group areas, each with its own commander and headquarters but answerable to Fighter Command HQ (Bentley Priory). London and the southeast was defended by No 11 Group, No 12 Group protected the Midlands and the north, whilst Northern Ireland was the responsibility of 13 Group. No 10 Group, covering the West Country and South Wales, became operational on July 8th, 1940, just in time for the Battle of Britain. Although each Group Commander had commitments to his own area, he was also obliged to respond to calls for assistance from 11 Group, which would clearly bear the brunt of the fighting. Each Group was then sub-divided into Sectors, each with its own Sector Station, effectively a local HQ comprising both an aerodrome and Sector Operations Room.

The 'System' worked as follows: -

  1. The RDF station would detect an increase in enemy activity over the French coast as a raid assembled.
  2. This information would be passed by landline to the underground Filter Room at Fighter Command. There the information was sifted by filterers and filter officers, displayed on a gridded map and passed by tellers through closed speech circuits to both the adjacent Command Operations Room and those of the appropriate Groups.
  3. After incoming aircraft had crossed the coast, the Observer Corps was responsible for tracking their progress. Posts reporting to the Observer Centres which were connected by landline to the Command Operations Room. From the latter were issued orders to local civilian authorities regarding when to sound warning sirens. Tactical control, however, was delegated to the Groups and Sectors who issued orders directly to stations, squadrons and the Gun Operations Room which tied antiaircraft guns into the System.
  4. In each Group Operations Room, at least one Controller was always on duty, looking down on a huge gridded map showing the Group area and its surrounds. Aircraft approaching or crossing the area were represented by coloured plaques manipulated by WAAFs, armed with magnetised wands. Facing the Controller across a table was a 'totalisator' (or 'tote') which showed at a glance the location and readiness state of each squadron.
  5. The Group Controller would decide upon the appropriate course of action in respect of each and every threat, and give appropriate orders to Sector HQ and Gun Operations Rooms.
  6. The Sector Controller would then either bring his squadrons to a state of 'Readiness', i.e. ready for immediate take-off, or send them into the air as appropriate. Once the squadrons were airborne, he would provide them with information and instruction until such time as the formation leader sighted the enemy. By that time, the skill of the Sector Controller should theoretically have favourably positioned the squadrons to attack. When the formation leader cried 'Tally Ho!', the Controller knew that battle was about to be joined, his part played.

Despite the fact that the main attack would obviously fall upon southern England, not all RAF strength was concentrated in that area. Squadrons were, in fact, dispersed across the country, meaning that not only was the whole country protected but that fresh squadrons were available to be sent south as reinforcements. By the same token, it was possible to withdraw depleted squadrons north to rest and re-fit.

In July 1940, the opposing forces compared as follows: -

RAF FIGHTER COMMAND

Spitfires . Hurricanes Defiants . Blenheims Total: . . .

LUFTWAFFE

Aircraft in Air Fleets 2, 3 & 5:-Fighters:-

Me 109s Me 110s

844 250

Bombers: -

1,330

Total:

RAF Fighter Command was therefore outnumbered by nearly 3:1 in purely numerical terms. Naturally, enjoying unparalleled success, the Germans were confident. Working against them, however, were the facts that their personnel were tired, having been flying constant operations since May 10th, and their aircraft were in need of attention. Defying these men and machines was not only Fighter Command, in fact, but also the English Channel, every sortie over England dictating two sea crossings. German airman shot down over England or perhaps even the Channel, were likely to become prisoners. An Allied airman shot down could, conversely, even be back in the air later that same day.

Officially, the Battle of Britain is deemed to have begun on July 10th. As the battle developed, distinctive phases, dictated by the attacker, would become apparent. The first concerned enemy attacks against Channel bound convoys. Fighter Command was therefore compelled to fly hundreds of sorties per day to protect this vital merchant shipping.

This phase of the Battle of Britain lasted until August 12th, by which time 30,000 out of nearly five million tons of shipping fell victim to enemy air attacks between Land's End and the Nore. Raids were also mounted by dive-bombers against various Chain Home radar stations, including those at Pevensey, Rye, Dover and Ventnor. Small and therefore difficult to hit, none of these stations were put out of action for more than 24 hours, so Fighter Command was never denied the advantages of radar. During this phase, the Luftwaffe had lost 261 aircraft, Fighter Command 261.

On August 2nd, orders were issued to Luftflotten (Air Fleets) 2, 3 and 5 to destroy Fighter Command. This new phase commenced on August 13th, and concentrated on Fighter Command's airfields in southern England.

During this phase, the Germans, flying from northern bases, attacked targets in northern England. To their dismay, however, mistakenly believing RAF fighters to be concentrated in southern England, they were met by Hurricanes and Spitfires in force, due to clever deployment of squadrons. German losses were heavy.

Nevertheless, Fighter Command's airfields in 11 Group had taken a pounding and the situation was critical. Reichsmarschal Goering now turned his attention to London and a new phase consequently began on September 7th. Although this was bad news for Londoners, the unexpected respite allowed Fighter Command to return its hard-hit aerodromes to 'top line'. During the 'Battle of the Airfields', the Luftwaffe lost 629 aircraft, Fighter Command 385.

London was, the Germans had decided, the only target likely to force the British to commit large numbers of fighters to defend. On that basis virtually the entire emphasis became attacks on the British capital.

The first in this series of attacks against London came on the afternoon of Saturday, 7th September. Hundreds of bombs crashed down on docklands east of Tower Bridge. As this latest fire of London later illuminated the night sky, the raiders returned in wave after wave. The attack concluded at 0430 a.m. the following day, by which time 1,800 Londoners were dead.

On Sunday, September 15th, the Luftwaffe launched what became its last attempt to gain a decision in daylight over London. Dawn on the great day found most of southern England shrouded with mist, but as the sun climbed higher this quickly evaporated. The fine weather therefore heralded a predictable onslaught. Before 11 a.m., German reconnaissance aircraft had probed the Straits of Dover and the East Coast of Kent. From first light onwards, standing patrols of Spitfires and Hurricanes had been up over the coast from Harwich to Land's End. Each Sector Station kept one squadron at Readiness. At 10.50 a.m., the British radar stations reported an enemy formation assembling SE of Boulogne. Five minutes later all of 11 Group's squadrons were at Readiness.

At 11.33 a.m., an enemy formation crossed the coast between Dover and Folkestone, being followed three minutes later by two further hostile plots between Dover and South Foreland. The raiders' targets were London's gas works and other industrial objectives. To parry this thrust, squadrons were airborne, reinforced at midday by the five squadrons of 12 Group's so-called 'Duxford Big Wing', led by Squadron Leader Bader. Such was the ferocity of Fighter Command's attack that the enemy apparently bombed at random across southern England. Two bombs fell on Buckingham Palace. Hardly had this first mass attack been dispersed, however, than the radar stations reported further incoming raids. Between 2.10 and 2.34 p.m., eight or more German formations crossed the English coast bound for London. Having lit fires in Woolwich, Barking, Stepney, Stratford Gasworks, West Ham, Penge, and at a petrol depot in West Ham, the Luftwaffe withdrew, constantly harried by the defenders.

Next, 27 He 111s attacked Portland and were intercepted by just six Spitfires, and six RAF fighter squadrons coupled with accurate anti-aircraft fire frustrated an attack on the Supermarine factory near Southampton. This thwarted raid marked an end to the fighting on what has since become annually celebrated in Britain as 'Battle of Britain Day'. Although Fighter Command's pilots claimed a total number of 185 enemy aircraft destroyed, more recent research confirms the actual figure as 58. Nevertheless, Fighter Command lost just 28 aircraft destroyed, and was able to sustain such losses for longer still.

On Tuesday, September 17th, British Intelligence intercepted a German signal ordering the dispersal of invasion facilities: Seelowe had been postponed indefinitely.

The Battle of Britain did not end, however, with the fires in London on September 15th, although clearly that date represented a climax and it provides an ending to this simulation. Attacks on London continued, during daylight for a while longer yet, although by smaller formations. Successful attacks were made on various targets connected with the British aircraft industry, although on September 30th, KG55's He 111s took a beating during an ill-fated raid on the Westland Aircraft Factory at Yeovil in Somerset. As a result, the He 111 was transferred to the night blitz, which had already started against British cities and which continued right up until May 1941.

Although Britain's cities continued to suffer at night given that nocturnal defences remained in their infancy, it was recognised that RAF Fighter Command had won the daylight battle lasting 16 weeks. The British Prime Minister paid tribute to RAF Fighter Command: -

" The gratitude of every home in our island . . . goes out to the British airmen, who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of world war by their prowess and devotion. Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few."

Dilip Sarkar has been fascinated by the Battle of Britain since childhood. Over the last 20 years he has compiled a huge archive of memories and photographs from primary sources including surviving veterans and the relatives of casualties. He is now the author of 12 highly acclaimed books on the Battle of Britain and related subjects.

© Dilip Sarkar August 2000.

Ramrod Publications 16 Kingfisher Close St Peter's

Worcester WR5 3RY

CCredits and nowledgements

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