Squadrons - Battle of Britain


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Following the British evacuation from Dunkirk and the French surrender in June , the Germans were uncertain what to do next.


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Hitler believed the war was over and that the British, defeated on the continent, would come to terms soon. However, he was to be frustrated by British intransigence. Though there was a strand of public and political sentiment that favored a negotiated peace with Germany, Winston Churchill , the British Prime Minister, refused to countenance an armistice with the Nazis.

His skillful use of rhetoric hardened public opinion against a peaceful resolution and prepared the British for a long war. In a speech to the House of Commons on June 18, he stated:. What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over.

I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. The UK's rejection of German terms was emphatic. In an effort to finish the war in the West, Hitler ordered preparation of an invasion plan on July He hoped to frighten the UK into peace before the invasion was launched and used the invasion preparations as a means to apply pressure.

All preparations were to be made by mid-August. Sealion was a deeply flawed plan, suffering from a lack of resources—particularly sea transport—and disagreements between the German Navy and Army. With the threatening bulk of the British Royal Navy within a day's steaming of the English Channel, it seems unlikely in hindsight that the plan could ever have worked. All the German services agreed on one thing: the plan would not work unless the Luftwaffe German air force could win air superiority over the RAF.

With control of the air, the Royal Navy could be beaten off and the British defenses pummeled into submission. The first task at hand was therefore to win air superiority by destroying the RAF as a fighting force. A plan was hatched to attack RAF airfields and aircraft production centers. Before the start of Adlertag , there was a month of attacks on convoys in the English Channel. This period of fighting was called Kanalkampf Channel Battle by the Germans and was used as an opportunity to test the RAF's defenses and lure their fighter aircraft up to fight.

The RAF dates the beginning of the battle from the first convoy attacks on July 10, German strategy was influenced by pre-war theories on strategic bombing, such as those espoused by Giulio Douhet. This stressed the air assault, the weakness of air defense, and the effects of terror bombing on public morale.

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After the Spanish Civil War the emphasis of German air operations had shifted toward a more tactical force. In Poland and France, the Luftwaffe had operated jointly with the Army, creating the Blitzkrieg or "lightning war. Luftflotte 2 , commanded by Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, was responsible for the bombing of southeast England and the London area. As the battle progressed, command responsibility shifted, with Luftflotte 3 taking more responsibility for the night Blitz while the main attack fell upon Luftflotte 2's shoulders.

Late in the battle, an Italian expeditionary force, the Corpo Aereo Italiano , briefly joined the fighting. Initial Luftwaffe estimates of the duration of the campaign was for four days to defeat the RAF's Fighter Command in southern England, followed by four weeks in which bombers and long-range fighters would mop up the rest of the country and destroy the UK's aircraft industry. The plan was to begin attacks on airfields near to the coast, gradually rolling subsequent attacks inland toward London and the ring of Sector airfields defending it. Broadly, the Luftwaffe kept to this scheme, but its commanders had differences of opinion on strategy.

The commander of Luftflotte 3, Hugo Sperrle, wanted to eradicate the air defense infrastructure by bombing. His counterpart in Luftflotte 2, Albert Kesselring, demanded to attack London directly—either to bombard the British government into submission or draw RAF fighters up into a decisive battle.

The Luftwaffe was ill served by their lack of intelligence on the British defenses. The German intelligence services were fractured, driven by rivalries, and their overall performance was incompetent. By there were few or no German agents operating in the UK and a handful of bungled attempts to insert spies into the country were foiled. This meant that the Luftwaffe had almost no recent knowledge of the workings of the RAF's air defenses: in particular of the crucial command and control system that had been built before the war. Even when good information existed, such as 5th Abteilung's November assessment of Fighter Command strengths and capabilities, it was ignored if it did not match perceived wisdom.

For much of the battle the Luftwaffe operated 'blind', unaware of their enemy's true strengths, capabilities and deployments. Many times the leadership believed Fighter Command strength had collapsed, while raids against supposed fighter airfields fell instead on bomber or coastal defense installations.

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The results of bombing and air fighting were exaggerated, resulting in a Luftwaffe leadership that became increasingly disconnected from reality. This lack of leadership and solid intelligence meant that the Germans did not adopt any consistent strategy, even when the RAF had its back to the wall. However, the keystone of the British defense was the complex machinery of detection, command and control that ran the battle. This anticipated raids, often using accurate intelligence and used radio to coordinate pilots in the air. A grid system of bases up-and-down the country protected major cities.

At the headquarters of each group e. The Group areas were subdivided into Sectors, each commanding between two and four squadrons.

Battle of Britain - New World Encyclopedia

Sector stations, comprising an aerodrome with a command post, were the heart of this organization, though they also had satellite airfields to disperse squadrons to. When ordered by their Group HQ, the sector stations would 'scramble' their squadrons into the air. Squadrons could be ordered to patrol airfields or vital targets, or be 'vectored' to intercept incoming raids. Though it was the most sophisticated air defense system in the world at that time, the Dowding System had many limitations. The RDF radar was subject to significant errors and the Royal Observer Corps had difficulties tracking raids at night and in bad weather.

HF radio was limited in range and even with a network of relay stations the squadrons could not roam more than one or two sectors from their airfield. It was also restricted to a single frequency per squadron, making it impossible to communicate between squadrons. In spite of this RAF Fighter Command was able to achieve high levels of efficiency, at times achieving interception rates greater than 80 percent.

For all its faults the RAF had a system of ground control that allowed its fighters to be where they were needed. The Luftwaffe, with no such system, was always at a disadvantage. It is unclear how much the British intercepts of the Enigma cipher , used for high-security German radio communications, affected the battle. Ultra, the information obtained from Enigma intercepts, gave the highest echelons of the UK's command a view of German intentions but it seems that little of this material filtered down to Hugh Dowding's desk.

However, the 'Y' radio listening service, monitoring the patterns of Luftwaffe radio traffic, contributed considerably to the early warning of raids. However, while the British were using radar more effectively than the Germans realized for air defense, the Luftwaffe had their own electronic means to increase their air attacks' effectiveness.

One of the systems was called Knickebein "crooked leg" , a system where carefully positioned radio transmitters in friendly territory broadcast specially targeted navigational beams that intersected over specific bombing targets in enemy territory.

History of the Battle of Britain

Bombers specially equipped with technology to detect these beams could be guided towards a target and receive a special signal to drop their bombs when they were roughly overhead. This allowed for somewhat more accurate bombing at night, when British air defense was at its weakest. He then managed to convince high command of the menace and confirmed it with special reconnaissance flights. Jones was then put in charge of developing countermeasures that often involved interfering with the beams to make attacking aircraft go widely off course.

Although the Germans resorted to other navigational systems, Jones and the Telecommunications Research Establishment TRE were able to neutralize each in turn. The result was markedly reduced precision bombing effectiveness for the Germans. The Luftwaffe varied its tactics considerably to try to find a way through the RAF defenses.


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  • However, the RAF fighter controllers were often able to detect the free hunts and maneuver squadrons around them. The Luftwaffe also tried using small formations of bombers as bait, covering them with large numbers of escorts. This was more successful, but escort duty tied the fighters to the bombers' slow speed and made them more vulnerable.

    Casualties were greatest amongst the escort units. Standard tactics for raids soon became an amalgam of techniques. A free hunt would precede a raid to try to sweep any defenders out of the raid's path. The bombers would penetrate at altitudes between 10, and 16, feet, sometimes closely escorted by fighters. A 'detached' escort, or 'top cover' would fly above the bombers and maintain a distant watch. Luftwaffe tactics were influenced by their fighters, which were divided into single-engine Messerschmitt Bf and twin-engine Messerschmitt Bf types.

    Soon, they had to be given escorts of their own and were eventually restricted in their employment. This meant that the bulk of fighter duties fell on the Me Fighter tactics were then complicated by the Luftwaffe bomber crews, who demanded more close protection against the RAF.


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    • This shackled many more Me s to the bombers and though they were more successful at protecting the bombing forces, casualties amongst the fighters mounted. The weight of the battle fell upon the RAF's 11 Group. Keith Park's tactics were to dispatch individual squadrons to intercept raids. The intention was to subject attackers to continual attacks by relatively small numbers of aircraft and try to break up the tight formations of bombers. Once formations had fallen apart, straggling bombers could be picked off one by one.

      Where multiple squadrons reached a raid the procedure was for the slower Hurricanes to tackle the bombers while the more agile Spitfires held up the fighter escort. However, this ideal was not always achieved and sometimes the Spitfires and Hurricanes reversed roles. In the early phases of the battle the RAF was hamstrung by its reliance on obsolete fighting drills. These restricted their squadrons to tight formations of three aircraft or 'vics' and by-the-book attacks.

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