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The Hardest Day


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#1 wafu_vasco

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Posted 16 August 2013 - 09:01 PM

The Hardest Day

 

By the summer of 1940, the situation for the allies looked grim. German forces had advanced steadily through Poland, Holland and Belgium to then defeat France, and the Norwegian Campaign had seen a further major victory for the Third Reich. With the Soviet Union and the United States yet to become fully involved in the war against Germany, Britain stood alone to oppose the might of Hitler’s advancing forces.

 

Whilst the Royal Navy held a significant advantage over the German Kriegsmarine after notable victories in Norway, the British army and Royal Air Force had suffered significant losses in both Norway and France. With German forces now poised on the coast of Northern France, Britain steeled itself for the invasion it felt was sure to follow.

 

Hitler was well aware that a channel crossing would be nearly impossible to achieve, given the clear advantage held by the Royal Navy. Historians still debate whether Hitler ever truly planned to invade Britain or whether his actions were meant to beat Britain into submission; either way, the Luftwaffe was ordered to achieve air supremacy by eliminating RAF Fighter Command. The desperate battles which took place in the skies over Britain and the English Channel were proactively dubbed ‘The Battle of Britain” in an address by Winston Churchill on June 18th, 1940; the battle itself is now acknowledged to have taken place between July 10th and October 31st.

 

The first phase of the battle began with probing attacks against selected targets in an endeavor to draw the RAF out to fight in the air, whilst the main might of the Luftwaffe was deployed and prepared for the major offensive itself. This consisted largely of attacks against channel shipping and large scale fighter sweeps intended to draw British aircraft up to fight.

 

The second phase began on August 13th when Luftflotten 2,3 and 5 began a series of massive air attacks aimed at RAF air bases and the vital network of radar installations which provided them with the critical early warning of impeding attack. The Luftwaffe had at this time an average of 3306 serviceable aircraft; of this number, 839 were single engine fighters, 282 twin engine fighters, 336 Stukas and 981 bombers. Opposing this, the RAF could muster 675 fighters (please note these figures are subject to significant change depending on the source quoted). By August 15th, the pace of operations for both the RAF and the Luftwaffe had increased significantly – RAF Fighter Command flew 974 sorties on that day alone, with the Luftwaffe flying 2199 sorties. However, it would be August 18th which would come to be known as ‘The Hardest Day’.

 

Around midday on August 18th, Luftflotte 2 launched a huge series of attacks which would make up a significant proportion of the 850 or so sorties launched by the Luftwaffe on that day. The crucial sector airfields of RAF Biggin Hill and RAF Kenley, both situated in the strategically vital 11 Group in the South East of England, were targeted. A force of some 60 Heinkel 111s of KG1 were tasked with attacking Biggin Hill, whilst the responsibility of striking Kenley fell to the 48 Junkers 88s and Dornier 17s of KG76. An advance force of Me109s swept ahead of the main raid, whilst Me109s and Me110s also provided a more direct escort. The attacking wave consisted of some 108 bomber and 150 fighters.

 

The majority of the inbound raid was detected by Britain’s radar network. No.501 Squadron’s 12 Hurricanes were already airborne and were shortly joined by another 8 squadrons scrambled from 11 Group’s airfields.  Just short of 100 Hurricanes and Spitfires were now moving to intercept the attack or defend the vital British airfields. As the first encounters were taking place, 7 Dornier 17s of 9/KG 76 mounted a daring low level raid against Kenley, having initially slipped beneath British raid and only been detected once they had coasted in. The Dorniers wreaked havoc across Kenley, destroying three of the four main hangars and the station operations room. However, only two damaged Dorniers managed to crawl back to their home airfield after being attacked by Hurricanes of No.111 Squadron and ground fire.

 

Meanwhile, in the airspace in the vicinity of Biggin Hill, a huge dogfight was developing between 25,000 and 30,000 feet. No.615 Squadron’s Hurricanes were bounced by Me109s of JG3; however, the ensuing combat allowed No.32 Squadron’s Hurricanes to smash into the main bomber force. The head on attack succeeded in breaking up the entire formation of Dorniers, forcing some to select new targets or abandon their attack entirely. Escorting Me110s joined the fight, shortly followed by 8 Spitfires of No.64 Squadron.

 

By this time the Ju88s of KG76 had arrived at Kenley but found their target obscured by smoke from the damage caused by the earlier low level attack. Whilst maneuvering into position, they too were attacked by RAF fighters. Simultaneously, KG1’s Heinkel 111s were approaching Biggin Hill. Escorting 109s broke away to intercept approaching Spitfires of No.615 Squadron, succeeding admirably in keeping the British fighters at bay to allow the bombers a clear run to the target. Unfortunately for the German aircrew, their losses were in vain as the Biggin Hill raid only managed to damage the station golf course. As a result of breaking up the German bomber formations, the airfields at Croydon and Manston were also attacked as secondary targets. Now, with the German raiders turning for home and the fighter escorts running low on fuel, the 109s were more vulnerable to attack. A further wave of 109s was sent to protect the retreating German force, but this took heavy losses. 12 Me109s were lost during the encounters, as well as 8 bombers. However, it was the severely outclassed Me110s which took the brunt of the beating, losing between 12 and 15 aircraft. RAF losses amounted to between 17 and 19 fighters during the early afternoon encounters.

 

Luftflotte 3 were the next to enter the fray with over 100 Junkers 87 Stukas of StG77and StG3. The dive bombers launched to attack airfields at Thorney Island, Gosport and Ford, as well as targeting Poling radar station, escorted by 157 Me109s of JG2, JG27 and JG53. After underestimating the size of the raid, only 68 British fighters were scrambled to intercept.  3 British fighters were destroyed on the ground by the Me109s which had swept ahead of the main force. Poling radar station suffered heavy damage from the Stukas as the escorting Me109s struggled in combat to defend them against attacking Spitfires from No.234 Squadron, with three German fighters being shot down for no loss to the British. The remaining Stuka formations were not so fortunate, being attacked by British fighters before their escort could intervene. Some 300 aircraft swirled in a huge dogfight in the ensuing melee whilst the Stukas still continued to bomb their assigned targets under fire from enemy fighters and AA.  The Stukas were no match for the British fighters, with different sources quoting between 15 and 18 of the dive bombers being destroyed. The losses were so heavy that all Stuka Wings were withdrawn from the battle entirely. In addition to this, six Me 109s had been destroyed. Whilst the RAF had lost only five fighters during the encounter, over 20 aircraft had been destroyed on the ground and another gap had now appeared in Britain’s critical radar network.

 

The day was still far from over. By early evening, Luftflotte 2 had reassembled and was ready for another strike. The final big push against Fighter Command came in the form of 58 Dornier 17s of KG2 and 51 Heinkel 111s of KG53, attacking RAF Hornchurch and RAF North Weald respectively. Escorting them were 140 German fighters. 13 Squadrons of Hurricanes and Spitfires were scrambled from 11 Group to intercept, with a further four sent to assist from 12 Group to the North. British fighters tore through the ranks of KG53’s Heinkels, scattering the raid and forcing many of the German bombers to jettison their payloads and flee. Escorting fighters were involved in heavy fighting, with critical losses again suffered amongst the outclassed Me110s. Whilst only four Heinkel 111s were lost, seven Me110s fell to the guns of the British fighters. KG2 met with less resistance thanks to their escort managing to keep the British fighters occupied, but were unable to cause significant damage to their targets due to poor weather.

 

Whilst the Luftwaffe continued to launch raids over Britain after dark, the brunt of the fighting on August 18th was now over. Actual statistical analysis of the achievements of both sides varied hugely, not only at the time but also today, even after many historians have researched the events of the day’s fighting. In terms of aircraft losses, aviation historian Mike Spick states that the Luftwaffe lost 18 Me109s and 17 Me110s, as well as 18 Ju 87 Stukas. Estimates of a further 12 medium bombers can also be added to Spick’s figures. He goes on to quote RAF losses of 26 Hurricanes and 5 Spitfires, although perhaps more importantly for Fighter Command, only 10 pilots were killed from these 31 aircraft losses at a time when replacing personnel was far more difficult than bringing in replacement fighters.

However, the Luftwaffe’s objective was to destroy the RAF on the ground as well as in the air and in that respect they had achieved other notable successes throughout the day. Whilst many of the Luftwaffe’s attacks were well executed, these successes were blunted in some respects due to failures on the part of Luftwaffe Intelligence in the target selection which the aircrews had been allocated; the Luftwaffe was, after all, attempting to achieve air supremacy by wiping out RAF Fighter Command and most of the aircraft destroyed on the ground on August 18th belonged to RAF Coastal Command or the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm. The propaganda machines of both nations claimed approximately double the successes they had actually achieved in terms of aircraft destroyed, whilst also only admitting to about half the losses suffered. However, both sides had experienced their greatest losses in a single day for the entire campaign, leading to August 18th later being dubbed ‘The Hardest Day’. But from the pilots’ point of view, RAF Fighter Command had succeeding in shooting down approximately double the number of aircraft that had been lost in the air - but whilst these numbers were to some extent evened out by ground losses, Fighter Command were on the way to proving to the world that the German war machine could, and would be defeated. Whilst there is still debate of whether Germany ever did really have the men and equipment to pose a serious threat of invasion to Britain, there is absolutely no doubt that ‘The Few’ men of RAF Fighter Command achieved an astounding moral victory by proving to the world that Hitler’s Germany was far from invincible.


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"He's totally biased towards the Fleet Air Arm…" - A senior WT official, Oct 2013

#2 BuccaneerBill

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Posted 16 August 2013 - 11:50 PM

Another well written and engaging article, thanks!


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#3 sharpshooter4

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Posted 16 August 2013 - 11:55 PM

great article. but i was wondering if there were canadian squadrons in this article or not. because i know that the RCAF and the canadian army helped alot in the battle of britain 


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#4 wafu_vasco

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Posted 17 August 2013 - 12:13 AM

The RCAF weren't involved directly in the Battle of Britain as an independent fighting force, but No.1 (Fighter) Squadron of the RCAF and Canadian pilots in RAF squadrons certainly played a very vital role. Richard Towenshend Bickers quotes 90 Canadian pilots as having taken part in the battle, of which 20 were killed. Of the 2945 pilots in RAF Fighter Command during the battle, 2365 were United Kingdom and Commonwealth, so will probably have included more Canadians who were not identified separately. Also, between 56 and 58 Royal Navy pilots took part in the battle; again, a percentage of these may well have been Canadian (as an aside, one of the the Fleet Air Arm's two Second World War Victoria Crosses was awarded to a Canadian pilot - Lt Robert Gray). Famously, No.242 Squadron who flew Hurricanes under the leadership of the legendary Douglas Bader were nicknamed the 'All Canadians' - whilst not 100% Canadian during the battle, a high number of their pilots hailed from Canada. However, in terms of the squadrons involved in the Hardest Day, No.1 and No.242 were not involved in the fighting in 11 Group on that particular day. But, statistically, there's still a good chance that a Canuck or two flew in the squadrons who were involved! 

 

As for army units, again, there were many Canadian soldiers serving in the British army due to the Commonwealth connections, but the army did not play a particularly large role in the Battle of Britain. They had been very busy in France and Norway just prior to the battle, however.


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"He's totally biased towards the Fleet Air Arm…" - A senior WT official, Oct 2013

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Posted 17 August 2013 - 12:24 AM

A great article and very informative.


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#6 kblack

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Posted 17 August 2013 - 12:45 AM

Very good article, as it is becoming usual. Really enjoying to read. Makes your blood boil and want to log on Warthunder to fly some of those planes.


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#7 DeRaptir

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Posted 17 August 2013 - 02:02 AM

Time to downtier


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#8 Botan

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Posted 17 August 2013 - 08:53 AM

 With Russia and the [..] yet to become fully involved in the war against Germany, Britain stood alone to oppose the might of Hitler’s advancing forces.

 

 

Well, at that time it wasn't only Russia, but USSR, so it's Russia + other different nations. Also that sentence sounds weird, if we consider that III Reich and USSR were trading a lot, and USSR was selling a crucial raw resources.

 

Except that digression, it's a good article like always.  :)s 


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RB events player No. 301 Polish Bomber Squadron "Land of Pomerania" Creating list of possible planes changes in historical events - you may help 2.


#9 wafu_vasco

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Posted 17 August 2013 - 09:02 AM

Good point, Botan, very good point - in the west, the country in World War 2 is often referred to as 'Soviet Russia', implying - incorrectly, as you point out - that the two terms are interchangeable. Thanks for pointing that out; I'll go change it now.

You also mention the links between the USSR and Germany at the time: again, very true considering the implications of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, but if we consider the Soviet Union's involvement in the conflict in a broader sense, I think it's still fair to count the Soviet Union as an allied nation. So yeah, I do totally see your point, the point I'm trying to make is that from a modern point of view, everybody knows that the USA and USSR played huge roles in the defeat of Germany - but in summer 1940, Britain and her Commonwealth stood all but completely alone. 


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"He's totally biased towards the Fleet Air Arm…" - A senior WT official, Oct 2013

#10 Botan

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Posted 17 August 2013 - 09:19 AM

It just the same mistake, like people using "England" instead of "UK"

 

 but in summer 1940, Britain and her Commonwealth stood all but completely alone. 

 

And with Poland. ;)


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#11 wafu_vasco

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Posted 17 August 2013 - 09:55 AM

 

And with Poland. ;)

Well, as I'm sure you know already, Poland had tragically been defeated and so could not stand alongside Britain as a nation. It was a cadre of Polish pilots who represented the country in the fight against Germany in the summer of 1940. But, if we're to acknowledge them then it is only fair to acknowledge every nation who fought in RAF Fighter Command during the battle:

 

United Kingdom within the RAF (including Commonwealth pilots who cannot be identified separately): 2,365, 397 killed

Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy: 56, 9 killed

Poland: 141, 29 killed

New Zealand: 103, 14 killed

Canada: 90, 20 killed

Czech: 86, 8 killed

Belgium: 29, 6 killed

Australia: 21, 14 killed

South Africa: 21, 9 killed

France: 13

Ireland: 9

United States: 7, 1 killed

South Rhodesia: 2

Palestine: 1

Jamaica: 1

 

Total: 2945, of which 507 were killed and 500 wounded.

 

There are quite a few myths which surround the Battle of Britain - 'Public school boys and university graduates flying Spitfires won the Battle of Britain': no, RAF Fighter Command was made up from people from all walks of life, and it was mainly NCO pilots flying mainly Hurricanes which won the battle.

'In the summer of 1940, RAF Fighter Command was mainly made up on foreign volunteers.' Again, no: Commonwealth nations had already - and still are, to this day - been welcome to join the British military directly. So, if we discount the Commonwealth, that leaves 285 pilots who made that long journey to help from outside nations. So, just under 10% of Fighter Command pilots were from non-Commonwealth nations. This help was absolutely vital, especially when one of the most important threats faced by Fighter Command was a lack of pilots, but Fighter Command was formed up by the vast majority by British pilots. Also, these figures just discuss pilots - let's not forget the ground crews and supporting arms who sacrificed so much without receiving nearly as much praise.


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"He's totally biased towards the Fleet Air Arm…" - A senior WT official, Oct 2013

#12 Botan

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Posted 17 August 2013 - 12:09 PM

Well, as I'm sure you know already, Poland had tragically been defeated and so could not stand alongside Britain as a nation. It was a cadre of Polish pilots who represented the country in the fight against Germany in the summer of 1940.

 

Well, by "nation' I mean government with 27 000 of soldiers (1505 from navy and 6500 of air force) with ships and warships, and a lot of engineers. At that point  Poland was only able to bring some soldiers and knowledge. If by "nation" you understand country with land (more than deck of ships ;), then yes, we could not stand.

Formally Polish pilots, after Anglo-Polish Military Agreement of 5 August 1940, were Polish soldiers, with Polish Army oaths only, but under RAF commands.

OK, enough of that Polish digression ;)

 

I wonder about one thing. Germany, like for me, were unprepared to assault Britain in 1940, lack of long range planes and specialised equipment for land from sea. I wonder, why they started WWII without being prepared for that, it looks that they didn't planed to attack UK when 1940 campaign started.


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RB events player No. 301 Polish Bomber Squadron "Land of Pomerania" Creating list of possible planes changes in historical events - you may help 2.


#13 wafu_vasco

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Posted 17 August 2013 - 02:35 PM

 

I wonder about one thing. Germany, like for me, were unprepared to assault Britain in 1940, lack of long range planes and specialised equipment for land from sea. I wonder, why they started WWII without being prepared for that, it looks that they didn't planed to attack UK when 1940 campaign started.

Hitler was very pro-British in the 1930s. He admired the culture: his favourite movie was 'Lives of a Bengal Lancer' which, by today's standards, was an action movie - about British soldiers locked in combat in Colonial India. He allegedly said he loved the film because it depicted how a 'Superior race' should behave, and he made it compulsory viewing for members of the SS.  He thought Germany and Britain had much in common, including France as a common enemy. His expansion of the Kriegsmarine was modelled in part on the British Royal Navy. In short, some of his closest confidents later said he genuinely believed that Britain would side with Germany as an ally and he was deeply shocked and hurt when Britain chose to go to war against Germany. This also ties in with the Battle of Britain itself: could Germany really have ever invaded Britain? Or was the whole offensive a last ditched attempt to scare Britain into surrender and possibly to change sides? I doubt we'll ever know for sure, but it's food for thought. 

 

Thanks again for the more detailed information about the Polish military - it's all new info to me, much appreciated and +1!


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"He's totally biased towards the Fleet Air Arm…" - A senior WT official, Oct 2013

#14 Mikplayeur

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Posted 17 August 2013 - 04:15 PM

AGAIN AN EVENT NOT PLAYABLE IN FRB... It's still Ger VS Ru  :facepalm:


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#15 Botan

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Posted 17 August 2013 - 04:31 PM

Hitler was very pro-British in the [..]

 

That's interesting.  I know, that all that Nazis ideology was a pretty crazy mixture of myths and histories (Germanic tribes + neopaganism + Roman symbols + Aryan race + Atlantis origin + some far right and far left elements), but so British Empire style is here too. xD

Well, there is also a case of Edward VIII.

 

I have to watch that film. 


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RB events player No. 301 Polish Bomber Squadron "Land of Pomerania" Creating list of possible planes changes in historical events - you may help 2.


#16 wafu_vasco

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Posted 17 August 2013 - 06:03 PM

I saw it once, years ago. From what I remember, it was a 1930s black and white movie with a sort of 1980s action movie ending. There were three British soldiers firing belt fed Vickers machine guns, still on their tripods, from the hip as they gunned down dozens of advancing Indian insurgents. It was almost like the ending to Commando or Rambo! 


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"He's totally biased towards the Fleet Air Arm…" - A senior WT official, Oct 2013

#17 BuccaneerBill

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Posted 17 August 2013 - 06:13 PM

http://www.calvin.ed.../gpa/wehr02.htm

Maybe a little unrelated but this is a German article at the start of the invasion of Poland trying to justify the invasion.  England appears a lot in the text.


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#18 wafu_vasco

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Posted 17 August 2013 - 06:51 PM

Wow. It's not a massive leap to the assumption that the wording here backs up the claim about how personally Hitler took it when Britain declared war. 


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#19 bubu95

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Posted 18 August 2013 - 01:09 PM

Don't forget about Czechoslovak pilots ;) Fought and died in exile for their land :salute:


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#20 Stryker00

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Posted 18 August 2013 - 06:28 PM

Nice event gaijin, played 10+ games and not once got the event.


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