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Logistics and the Battle of Britain.


It is arguable that the Battle of Britain was lost long before the Second World War started. Luftwaffe doctrine, so successful in establishing a powerful synergy between air and land operations, was deeply flawed in its understanding of the fundamentals of airpower. The causes were various, but the result was inadequate provision for the industrial investment and resources necessary to sustain operations in the face of high wastage rates that war would bring. By contrast, the Royal Air Force (RAF) was well placed to defend Great Britain, notwithstanding its perceived doctrinal emphasis on strategic bombing. As Richard Overy recently pointed out, the contest the country faced after Dunkirk had been anticipated and prepared for in the 1930s. [1] The Air Ministry, planning the rapid expansion of the front line, had clearly understood the lessons of the First World War, in particular, the high cost--in human and materiel terms--of sustaining air operations. [2] By providing the proper economic and logistics basis for realizing these plans, the air staffs had also established the foundation for increasing Allied air superiority as the war progressed. This is not to say their prewar planning was without flaws. Indeed, at a tactical and operational level, the Luftwaffe enjoyed self-evident advantages. However, by getting the fundamentals right and being prepared to learn from painful early reverses, the Royal Air Force placed itself in a significantly stronger position than the Luftwaffe to fight the Battle of Britain.

None of this is to deny the huge importance of technology, tactics, and leadership or the courage of individual pilots in determining the final outcome. No doubt these issues will continue to dominate the debate on the conduct of the Battle of Britain much as they have for the last 60 years. But the possibility of a Luftwaffe victory was effectively compromised by plans, laid down in the prewar period, that provided Fighter Command with a quantitative advantage and the means to sustain this advantage.

This article seeks to clarify the part played by logistics in the Battle of Britain and how it shaped the outcome. For brevity, the analysis focuses primarily on the single-seat fighters deployed by the respective air forces. It was in this arena that the Luftwaffe needed to prevail if it were to achieve air superiority over southern England and, in so doing, defeat the Royal Air Force.


As the prospect of war grew ever stronger, the Royal Air Force turned to the First World War for insight. While it was recognised that technology had progressed considerably since 1918, it was expected that the problems in prosecuting a modern war would be familiar, albeit more acute. In a paper delivered to the Royal United Services Institute in 1934, the difficulties facing a technical service preparing for the next war were explored in some detail, particularly the question of how to make good wastage. [3] Chairing the meeting was Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, who had been largely responsible for the development of the highly efficient logistics system that supported the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Air Force on the Western Front. [4] In a review of the key issues, it was stated that the average life of an aircraft in war was 2 months, a view shared by Sir Robert, who referred to the 45 percent monthly attrition rate suffered by the Royal Air Force between March and October 1918. [5] Wastage could only be made good from three sources: manufacturing, reserves, and repair. As matters stood, it was unlikely that either industry or the Service depots could satisfy the demand. Accordingly, for the Royal Air Force to prosecute the next war, it needed a greatly expanded peacetime establishment, high production rates, larger repair depots, additional skilled technical personnel, an emphasis on quantity over quality (in the sense of balancing production against continuous progress), long preparation, and careful planning.

Such public pronouncements were matched by the Air Staff's own calculations in Memorandum No 50 (Secret Document 78), first issued in 1933, which provided data for the calculation of consumption and wastage in war. [6] The monthly wastage rate for single-seat fighters engaged in Home Defence was assessed to be 100 percent and that for single-seat pilots 30 percent. Thus, it was anticipated that a fighter force of 50 squadrons engaged in active operations would suffer wastage of 1,000 aircraft a month. Assuming the depots could repair 50 percent of these machines, industry would need to produce 500 new aircraft a month just to maintain front-line strength. [7] In order to cope with peaks in attrition and the inevitable delay in mobilizing industrial production, reserves equal to at least 6 weeks' wastage would also be required (some 1,500 aircraft). Finally, approximately 300 new fighter pilots would be needed each month, although it was recognised that dilution would be a major factor in determining whether operational effectiveness could be sustained. [8] Interestingly, given that prewar RAF planners were only interested in strategic bombing, it was further stated, "Home Defence was the most important commitment that the Service had to prepare for." [9]

These calculations would not prove to be grossly unrealistic (Figure 1). [10] More important, in recognising the attritional nature of any future war, the Air Staff had laid the foundations of an expansion plan, both in terms of availability and sustainability, that would provide the Royal Air Force with the resources to defeat the Luftwaffe. This is not to say that the Luftwaffe had failed to recognise the importance of wastage. Plans prepared in 1938 envisaged a monthly bomber and fighter attrition of 50 percent, but the necessary resources and organisational arrangements to make good such losses were not put in place prior to the outbreak of war. [11] Richard Overy commented that prewar air theory largely avoided the difficult question of the appropriate level of supply to sustain airpower. "This was not a question of sheer numbers alone, but also of aircraft quality, and of repair and maintenance as well." [12] It would be difficult to accuse the RAF staffs of this failing, whatever their faults in other areas of prewar planning.


Between 1934 and 1938, there were eight separate expansion schemes designed to close the air gap with Germany. They were, as John Terraine has observed, "All, in the strictest sense, failures," nevertheless adding that they "did provide Britain with an air force which was fit (just) to go to war in 1939 and fit (by a narrow margin) to win a decisive victory in 1940." [13] Understandably, for the purposes of deterrence, there was a strong element of show compared to substance in all of these schemes. However, they did ultimately provide for a considerably expanded and modern front line with significant reserves and the necessary industrial capacity, including shadow factories, to sustain operations. For Fighter Command, the intention had been to provide 50 squadrons of Hurricanes and Spitfires by March 1942 (the number deemed necessary to defend against a possible attack by 2,000 German bombers). This would be achieved (just) by July 1940.

Unfortunately, none of the expansion schemes addressed the question of repair and overhaul. In fact, the air staffs were divided on a large-scale buildup of a repair-and-maintenance organization in preparation for war. There was little prospect of any significant investment while Sir Edward Ellington remained Chief of the Air Staff (CAS). He had famously expressed his own views with the statement, "There will be no repair in war." [14] When Sir Cyril Newall replaced him in September 1937, the Air Member for Supply and Organisation, Air Vice Marshal Welsh, was moved to comment, "We had been building up a front-line air force, which was nothing but a facade. We had nothing by way of reserves or organisation behind the front line with which to maintain it." [15] To meet these needs, it was agreed to construct three large Service depots (Sealand, St Athan, and Henlow) and three civilian-manned depots under Service control (Stoke, Abbotsinch, and Burtonwood). The former would undertake 25 percent of the repairs, the civilian-manned depots the remainder. This presaged a huge expansion in the repair, supply, and storage organisation. While they would ultimately comprise a network of more than 300 maintenance units at home and overseas, the outbreak of war arrived before any of the large general repair depots could be completed.


The expansion of the British aircraft industry in support of rearmament was an immense achievement in which there were huge obstacles. Perhaps the most significant development in prewar planning was the introduction of the War Potential programme in 1938 that sought to give Britain the capability to produce 2,000 aircraft a month by the end of 1941. As Sebastian Ritchie pointed out, this provided the basis for planning aircraft production in much greater depth and for developing a comprehensive state production organisation. [16] Although an output of 2,000 aircraft a month would not be achieved until the end of 1942, actual production soon exceeded planned targets (Table 1). By comparison, German aircraft production languished in the early part of the war. Thus, while Britain produced 4,283 Hurricanes and Spitfires in 1940 against a planned total of 3,602, Germany produced 1,870 Bf 109s against a planned total of 2,412. [17] Incredibly, Germany did not mobilize its aircraft industry at the outbreak of war and did not seek to expand the Luftwaffe's repair capability. In September 1940, when attrition was at its highest, Britain produced 467 Hurricanes and Spitfires while Germany only produced 218 Bf 109s. [18] The relative performance of the British and German aircraft industries was critical to both the size and sustainability of the front line.

The Battle of France

Just how high actual operational wastage would prove was demonstrated in the Battle of France. Of the 452 Hurricanes sent to France (equivalent to some 2 month's production), only 66 returned (Figure 2). No fewer than 178 of those lost had been abandoned or destroyed through lack of repairs. [20] Only a relatively small number were lost in air combat.

These losses were ill-afforded. They were also, to some extent, avoidable. The arrangements for the maintenance of the RAE units deployed in France were unsatisfactory in many respects. In 1934, Sir Edward Ellington had decided to make deployed squadrons self-sufficient in the event of war rather than establish a supporting organisation of mobile airparks and depots (based on First World War experience) as had been originally proposed. The course of the war would demonstrate the soundness of the latter scheme. Indeed, it would form the basis of the highly effective support arrangements for the tactical air forces. [21] In the meantime, those squadrons deployed to France found themselves desperately short of reserves, vehicles, spares, and repair-and-salvage capabilities. Wastage rates were also higher than they had prepared for. As a result, in-theatre repair amounted initially to a mere two Hurricanes a week and had risen to only eight a week by June (and this after considerable effort). Almost no engine re pairs had been completed, owing to a shortage of tools. [22]

Such experiences were not unique to the Royal Air Force. Anecdotal evidence indicates the Luftwaffe suffered no less seriously from high operational attrition. Feldwebel Eric Bartel, who served as a Jagdgeschwader mechanic for much of the war, recalled that after just 17 days' action his staffel of 12 Bf 109Es from JG 77 had been reduced to just 5 or 6, including spares, mainly through mechanical failures and normal wear and tear, rather than enemy action. [23]

The Royal Air Force Maintenance Organisation

With the expansion of the Royal Air Force from 1936 onward came the need to change the policy on aircraft servicing. Prior to this period, each flight within a squadron was a self-contained unit for repair and maintenance, up to write-offs. This was altered to a three-flight arrangement under which two flights undertook day-to-day maintenance and the third flight all major inspections and repair. This system remained in force during the first year of the war, but experience in the Battle of Britain exposed significant weaknesses. As the operational tempo increased, squadrons were moved at more frequent intervals. The result was that squadrons became increasingly detached from their support staff. In some cases, they found themselves distributed across three stations. In December 1940, it was decided to transfer the bulk of the squadrons' servicing personnel to station maintenance units, significantly increasing the mobility of the Fighter Command squadrons. [24] These arrangements, with some refinements, rema ined in place until the end of the war.

Repair was a more difficult issue. It became rapidly apparent, even before the outbreak of war, that the Royal Air Force did not have the capacity to meet anticipated requirements. As a result, in October 1939, it was agreed that a civilian repair organisation (CRO), based around the fringe firms, [25] would be set up under Lord Nuffield, who would also control the Service repair organisation, including the Service-manned depots. At the time, this was a difficult decision taken in the face of some understandable hostility. The CRO came into being in January 1940, and by the end of the year, it had repaired 4,955 airframes, about 33 percent of the total airframe output going to the Metropolitan Air Force. By 1941, the total was a little more than 50 percent. [26] Similar arrangements, organised around the original equipment manufacturer, were put in place for engine and propeller repair.

Prior to the expansion scheme, such reserves as existed were stored on the stations where they were to be used. The significant increase in the size of the reserve demanded dedicated storage facilities. Plans were to establish 24 aircraft storage units (ASU), equipped to store 400 aircraft each and located at existing airfields (but as far away from continental Europe as practicable). At the outbreak of war, the Royal Air Force had some 2,200 aircraft in storage at 12 ASUs. Early in 1940, it was decided the large hangars storing considerable numbers of aircraft presented too high a risk, and accordingly, aircraft were dispersed to reduce the maximum holdings in each ASU from 400 to 200 aircraft. [27] ASUs not only provided a strategic reserve of aircraft but also formed an important buffer between the factory and the front line to cope with inevitable surges in wastage and complete modification and installation work prior to final delivery. For example, in August 1940, No 19 Maintenance Unit at St Athan issu ed 58 Hurricanes and received 55, leaving 23 in stock, out of a total of 237 stored aircraft of 19 different types. By the last quarter of 1939, ASU holdings had risen to 3,600 aircraft and had grown to more than 5,000 by the end of 1940.

The Luftwaffe Repair Organisation

Much of June and July 1940 was used by the Luftwaffe to make good the significant losses it had suffered [28] and, in particular, to put in place the logistics arrangements needed to support operations from their new airfields across northern France. The repair organisation was less easy to improvise. Day-to-day maintenance was the responsibility of mechanics attached to each staffel. [29] In the field, major repairs and overhauls (such as routine replacement of the Bf 109 Daimler-Benz 601 engine after just 100 hours flying time) fell to the workshop section attached to the group headquarters company. Work expected to take longer than 2 days was transferred, where possible, to regional workshops based at major airfields, which were established to undertake major repairs or modifications. At this stage of the war, however, these workshops were all located in Germany. Thus, many damaged aircraft had to be transported considerable distances by road and rail just to be repaired. There was no equivalent of the CRO , although there had been a violent debate early in 1938 between Udet (head of supply and research) and Milch (Goering's deputy and state secretary for the air force) about the provision of more extensive repair capabilities to support the Luftwaffe. The latter's view--that campaigns would be short and aircraft could be repaired and salvaged at home after victory was achieved--prevailed against Udet's proposals for significant investment in spares, tools, and repair facilities. [30] It is tempting to compare this outcome with the decision reached by RAF staffs on the very same issue at much the same time.

In quality and general professionalism, it would be hard to fault the Luftwaffe maintenance organisation. It was certainly a match for the Royal Air Force. However, it was not organised for an attritional war and had made little provision for timely repair and salvage. It is also arguable that it was less flexible and had far more difficulty responding to changing circumstances. For example, as the war progressed, it became increasingly evident that maintenance personnel were finding it difficult to keep up with their parent units, much as Fighter Command would discover in 1940. Nevertheless, it would not be until late 1944 that the Luftwaffe introduced independent maintenance companies subordinate to the airfield rather than a particular flying formation to resolve this particular problem. [31]

The Battle

Over the course of June and July 1940, it became obvious that Britain was not about to sue for peace. The Germans recognised that the destruction of the Royal Air Force had now become essential to the achievement of their strategic aims. On 1 August 1940, Hitler issued his Fundamental Directive No 17 for the "Conduct of the Air and Sea War against England." The Luftwaffe was to use all means to overpower the Royal Air Force in the shortest time possible. Attacks were to be directed primarily at flying units, their ground installations, and their supply organisation as well as the aircraft industry in order to "establish the necessary conditions for the final conquest of England." [32] To achieve this aim, the Luftwaffe could muster 3,358 aircraft (Table 2).

Other sources give slightly different figures, but most agree that the Luftwaffe deployed an effective strength of slightly more than 900 Bf 109 fighters out of some 1,000 aircraft. This comprised the bulk of their single-seat fighter force. Approximately 150 aircraft remained in other theatres, including Germany, to defend against possible Bomber Command attacks. [34] By comparison, Fighter Command could field 52 squadrons of Hurricanes and Spitfires, nearly 1,100 aircraft (Table 3). Thus, in terms of single-seat fighters, the opposing air forces were fairly evenly matched, albeit Fighter Command was outnumbered more than 3:1 overall.

Of course, these figures only provide an opening balance. Not unexpectedly, the strength of the respective air forces changed over the course of the summer and autumn as attrition took its toll. However, when looking at the overall picture, Figure 3, it is evident that Fighter Command steadily fielded more single-seat fighters as the battle progressed. In fact, as the Royal Air Force grew stronger, the Luftwaffe grew weaker. [36]

What makes this all the more surprising is that Fighter Command's operational losses were significantly higher than those suffered by the Luftwaffe's fighter force (Figure 4). This was equally true for the Battle of France as it was for the Battle of Britain. Thus, for 4 months, July-October 1940, Fighter Command lost more than 900 Hurricanes and Spitfires [37] compared to 600 Bf 109s recorded by the Luftwaffe quartermaster returns. [38]

Of course, operational losses do not tell the whole picture since they exclude accidents and other wastage. Determining the actual attrition (total destroyed and damaged) in single-seat fighters during the battle is not entirely straightforward. Definitions vary between the air forces, and some interpretation is required. Figure 5 indicates the total attrition in fighters from July to December 1940. [39] At the height of the battle, Fighter Command's total wastage in Hurricanes and Spitfires was more than 180 percent of its operational losses, compared to 140 percent for the Luftwaffe's Bf 109s. Given Fighter Command's greater combat losses, it is hardly surprising to find this matched by a higher overall attrition. However, the Luftwaffe's figures seem lower than might be expected, even allowing for the fact that damaged Bf 109s were less likely to make it back to their home airfields. When comparing operational losses, as a proportion of the overall wastage recorded, this disparity becomes clearer (Figure 6). While distance and the hazards of a Channel crossing could partially explain the difference, it seems likely that the attrition suffered by the Luftwaffe was actually higher (perhaps by as much as 20-25 percent) than the quartermaster returns would indicate.

It could be argued that a better test of relative strength is serviceability. The comparative rates for Fighter Command and the Luftwaffe are shown in Figure 7. The Fighter Command data have been extracted from an analysis produced in 1945 on production and wastage during the Battle of Britain. [40] The levels appear to be higher than those quoted in other sources. [41] Another source states that Fighter Command serviceability rose from 70 percent at the outbreak of war to 80 percent by November 1939 but, having fallen to 76 percent in July 1940, recovered to 80 percent by September where it stayed for the remainder of the year. [42] All in all, it seems safe to conclude that serviceability remained fairly constant in Fighter Command throughout the battle, somewhere between 80 and 90 percent. [43]

The Luftwaffe figures, drawn from quartermaster returns, indicate that the serviceability of the single-engine fighter force fell from slightly more than 80 percent at the start of the battle to close to 70 percent by autumn. These are also somewhat higher than other sources might indicate. Indeed, Richard Overy suggested that the number of serviceable Bf 109s could have fallen to as low as 40 percent of the total strength in October l940. [44] If, as discussed previously, operational wastage was actually higher than recorded, then availability may well have fallen to these levels. What is not in doubt is that Fighter Command, unlike the Luftwaffe, was largely able to sustain the serviceability of its fighter force.

Operational Implications

The operational implication for the Luftwaffe in the steady decline in the number of serviceable Bf 109s was significant, if not crucial. Experience rapidly demonstrated that only the Bf 109 could provide adequate protection to the bomber formations. In general, attacks on mainland targets required a 2:1 fighter-bomber ratio and sometimes as high as 3:1. With only 600-700 Bf 109s available daily for offensive operations, the attacking force was limited to no more than 250-300 bombers out of a total strength of 1,800. [45] Quite simply, the number of Bf 109s available for escort duties determined the Luftwaffe's day offensive capability.

Although great emphasis has been placed on the shortage of pilots faced by Fighter Command, the Luftwaffe suffered even more from the impact of wastage. Fighter Command's pilot casualties reached slightly more than 20 percent in August and September, but with some 260 pilots (albeit inexperienced) being produced each month from the operational training units, the situation was unlikely to become desperate. In fact, as Figure 8 indicates, Fighter Command started with a distinct advantage in pilot numbers that only increased as the battle progressed. [46] Robin Higham argues that Fighter Command's effective strength was lower, between 900 and 950 operational pilots. [47] Even on this basis, in September 1940, Fighter Command was able to field 250 more single-seat pilots than the Luftwaffe. The cause was the Luftwaffe's systematic neglect of training, a chronic weakness that only worsened as the war progressed.

In operational terms, Fighter Command significantly outperformed the Luftwaffe. A comparison of day-fighter sorties between the respective air forces indicates that it was able to generate as many as four times the weekly sortie rate as the Luftwaffe (Figure 9). Even at the peak of the battle, Fighter Command's Spitfires and Hurricanes flew 1,000 more sorties per week than the Luftwaffe's Bf 109s. [48]

Fighter Command clearly possessed an increasing advantage in single-seat fighters as the battle continued, notwithstanding higher aircraft and pilot attrition. How, then, was this achieved?

Production Balance

The simple answer is that losses were never greater than production. Deliveries to the operational squadrons actually exceeded wastage throughout the battle (Figure 10). This disguises, however, the crucial role played by the CR0. [49] While the sustained efforts of the aircraft industry were vital to maintaining the front line, repair provided 40 percent of the total output received by the operational squadrons (Figure 11). At the height of the battle, the CR0 achieved Hurricane and Spitfire repair turnaround times of less than 6 weeks, employing a combination of depot, fly-in, and onsite repair. The Luftwaffe had no capability on this scale. In fact, as late as 1942, repair output was no more than 25 percent of production. [50] Germany had entered the war with reserves of 900 aircraft, equivalent to 25 percent of front-line strength, compared to reserves of 2,200 aircraft, some 115 percent of front-line strength, held by the Royal Air Force. Accordingly, the Luftwaffe's relatively modest reserves were rapid ly dissipated through operational attrition. Fighter Command's reserves did shrink after July 1940, but they never totally disappeared and by the end of the year had returned to their previous levels (Figure 12).

Perhaps the most telling comparison is the monthly balance between wastage and production (including repair). Fighter Command and the Luftwaffe both experienced a negative balance in single-seat fighters during August 1940. Against a total wastage of 594 Hurricanes and Spitfires, new production and repair could provide only 527 aircraft, the difference being made up from the immediate reserve stocks. [51] In turn, the Luftwaffe lost more than 300 Bf 109s against new production of only 173 aircraft. Repair and reserves made good some of this shortfall, but such sources were nowhere near the scale of those available to Fighter Command. [52] More important, while Fighter Command quickly recovered to a positive balance of some 50 aircraft a month by September, it took the Luftwaffe an additional 2 months to reach this position (Figure 13). In October, after 3 months of steady attrition, Fighter Command's front line stood at some 98 percent of its established strength, slightly higher than when the battle opened. By comparison, the Luftwaffe fighter force had fallen from 95 percent to 82 percent of established strength. Reserves aside, the fundamental reason for this outcome was that Britain was out-producing Germany in single-seat fighters by a ratio of 2:1; if repairs are included, the ratio is closer to 3:1 (Figure 14).

Logistics as a Target

If the RAF's logistics system was the foundation of its operational strength, it raises the question as to why the Luftwaffe did not attack such an important target more vigorously. The answer would seem to lie partly in faulty intelligence that significantly underestimated the strength of Fighter Command and partly in the flawed thinking that shaped the Luftwaffe's own logistics arrangements. It might also be added that the rapid destruction of the Polish, Norwegian, Dutch, Belgian, and French Air Forces had provided little indication that the Royal Air Force would prove any more difficult to overcome. Thus, while attacks were made on Fighter Command's airfields and some of the depot and storage units, they were never pressed home with the urgency, discrimination, and weight that their significance warranted. Continued attacks on the Supermarine's Southampton factories did eventually stop production of the Spitfire Mk 1, but this was not part of a coordinated plan and had no marked effect on the delivery of new or repaired aircraft to Fighter Command. To be fair, the dispersed nature of such facilities made success problematical. It was the view of some in the Luftwaffe that such attacks would not succeed. "We have no chance of destroying the English fighters on the ground. We must force their last reserves of Spitfires and Hurricanes into combat in the air." [53] Failure to understand the complexity and strength of the RAF's logistics system and overly optimistic combat claims led directly to the fateful decision in early September 1940 to cease attacks against Fighter Command's airfields and concentrate instead on London, in the mistaken belief only a few enemy fighters were now left to prevent the Luftwaffe's final victory.


The Battle of Britain was essentially an attritional struggle that tested the logistics systems of the opposing air forces as much as it tested individual pilots, technologies, and tactics. It was a trial of strength, a relentless and grinding contest, far removed from the popular image of the few pitted against the many. Production, storage, repair, and salvage might not have been as glamorous in the public eye as the heroism shown by Fighter Command's pilots, but they were just as important.

Fighter Command's overall logistics position through 1940 is illustrated in Figure 15. Although total wastage in Hurricanes and Spitfires approached 3,000, deliveries to the squadrons were in excess of 3,500. The front-line strength of Fighter Command was able, therefore, to grow from some 500 Hurricanes and Spitfires in January 1940 to more than 1,000 by August. Even so, without a comprehensive repair-and-salvage organisation, attrition (in excess of 50 percent of front-line strength per month) would have rapidly weakened the operational squadrons. That such a decline did not occur was owed to the prewar air staffs, who not only understood the attritional nature of airpower but also put in place the necessary resources and support arrangements to enable Fighter Command to fight effectively when war came. Their achievements are all the more commendable given the Luftwaffe's failure to grasp these principles (Figure 16). Over the course of 1940, the Luftwaffe's single-seat fighter strength fell slightly, whil e the once considerable numerical superiority over Fighter Command was rapidly lost. With production, wastage, and strength in close balance, it is clear that the Luftwaffe enjoyed few reserves and little repair capability. In turn, this left no ability to cope with surges in attrition, leading to an inevitable decline in operational capability. The Luftwaffe's halfhearted attacks against the aircraft industry, storage units, and Fighter Command airfields reflected not only a weakness in intelligence but also the shortcomings in its own approach to the logistics of an attritional war. [54]


The Battle of Britain was a contest that the Luftwaffe had neither prepared for nor envisaged. Created as a strategic instrument, the Luftwaffe had become a superb tactical weapon. However, the expectation of a short war meant there were neither the industrial resources nor the necessary logistics arrangements in place to sustain operations in the face of a determined enemy. These shortcomings were never properly addressed and, coupled with the huge resources available to the Allied air forces, would ultimately seal the Luftwaffe's fate.

Too much can perhaps be made of the Luftwaffe's doctrinal weakness and flawed decision making. It was the creation of a strategic air defence force, in the form of Fighter Command, with the necessary equipment, organisation, and resources- underpinned by a comprehensive and highly effective logistics system-that defeated the Luftwaffe. Fighter Command's victory was founded on the vision, determination, and hard work of the prewar planning staffs. As Dempster and Wood concluded in their authoritative study of the Battle of Britain, "The outcome was the combination of the preparation, good judgement, and error, made in the preceding seven years." [55]

Air Commodore Dye is assigned to the RAF Maintenance Group Defence Agency at St Athan, Barry United Kingdom. He is a frequent contributor to the Air Force Journal of Logistics.


(1.) Dr Richard Overy, The Battle, London, 2000, 9.

(2.) Air Cdre Brooke-Popham expanded on these issues in a lecture on the Air Force in the Great War presented to the RUSI on 3 Dec 19. One of the significant conclusions was, "It was of the highest significance that spare machines and spare parts of every sort shall be instantly available. This means large base depots and an efficient channel of supply between depots and squadrons and on the sound working of this supply system the efficiency of the Royal Air Force in any theatre of war very largely depends."

(3.) Wg Comdr G. W. Williamson, "Some Problems of a Technical Service," lecture delivered on 21 Mar 34, RUSI Journal, No 516, 780-800.

(4.) A full description of the RAF's logistics system in France can be found in Air Power Review, Vol 1, No 2, 42-58.

(5.) Wastage grew steadily through the war. The average number of aircraft dispatched to France to maintain the front line (additional to any new squadrons) was 33 percent in 1914, 26 percent in 1915, 37 percent in 1916, 47 percent in 1917, and 52 percent in 1918 (PRO AIRI/676/21/13/1880). Interestingly, of the 6,500 aircraft struck off charge in France between March and October 1918, 6 percent were time-expired, 36 percent were due to enemy action, 24 percent arose from pilot error, and 29 percent from forced landings as a result of engine failure.

(6.) Air Staff Memorandum No 50, PRO AIR 10/1522.

(7.) This was the planning figure used in France in 1918; however, the actual achievement was probably closer to 25 percent.

(8.) It was recognised that such figures were only approximate in nature, being based to some extent on conjecture, When setting targets for the 1918 flying training programme, the life of a single-seat fighter pilot on the Western Front was estimated, for planning purposes only, to be just 10 weeks (PRO AIR 1/683/21/13/2234).

(9.) The traditional views on the development of Britain's air defence, prior to the establishment of Fighter Command, have been recently challenged by John Ferris, "Fighter Defence Before Fighter Command," The Journal of Military History, Oct 99, 845-885. He properly identifies the influence of the First World War and argues powerfully that without Bomber Command there could have been no Fighter Command. His article is highly recommended reading.

(10.) The aircraft wastage data are drawn from PRO AIR 20/1835 that provides gross weekly wastage in Spitfires and Hurricanes experienced by the operational squadrons. Pilot wastage has been calculated from the pilot strengths for Fighter Command provided by Overy, The Battle, 162, and the gross monthly casualties to be found in Appendix 34 of the AHB Narrative. If wastage is calculated on the basis of the squadrons' actual pilot strength, the rate is closer to 42 percent.

(11.) These wastage figures were, to some extent, drawn from British and American plans. German experience in the First World War indicated that a monthly attrition of some 30 percent might be expected. In 1938, it was calculated that a front line of 2,307 would demand a monthly production of some 1,800 aircraft. On the outbreak of war, the Luftwaffe's front-line strength was in excess of 3,600, but monthly production was less than 700 aircraft. Edward Homze, Arming The Luftwaffe, Nebraska, 1976, 1182-183.

(12.) Dr Richard Overy, The Air War 1939-45, London, 1980, 45.

(13.) John Terraine, The Right of the Line, London, 1985, 24-36.

(14.) PRO AVIA 46/168, The Repair and Maintenance of Aircraft 1939-1945.

(15.) Official History, Maintenance, AHB, 1954, 5.

(16.) Dr Sebastian Ritchie, Industry and Air Power, London, 1996, 5.

(17.) Overy, The Battle, 54.

(18.) Overy, The Air War, 33.

(19.) Data are drawn from M. M. Postan, British War Production, 484-485, and the BBSU Report on the German Aircraft Industry, Appendix B.

(20.) Norman Franks, Fighter Command Losses 1919-1941, Midland Publishing, 1997, 18-28.

(21.) Official History, 54.

(22.) PRO AIR 16/1023, Report on Operations of British Air Forces France.

(23.) Christian G. Sturm, The Black Men, Air Combat, 1986, 44-55.

(24.) Official History, 179-182.

(25.) The fringe firms were companies with some experience of the aircraft industry and a degree of familiarity with the problems of aircraft production and repair that were able to provide additional production capacity, initially for airframe modification work. By June 1939, five companies (Rollason's, Airwork, Brooklands Aviation, Scottish Aviation Prestwick, and General Aircraft) had joined the scheme.

(26.) PRO AVIA 46/168.

(27.) PRO AVIA 46/149, The Storage and Distribution of Aircraft.

(28.) The Luftwaffe lost 288 Bf 109s to operational causes during Apr and May 40.

(29.) Each fighter staffel comprised some 90 ground personnel.

(30.) Control Commission for Germany, The Supply Organisation of the German Air Force, Jun 46, 71-74. According to Milch, "The movement of squadrons must not be hampered by administrative work. Officers will riot be dependent on engineers--such a situation would prejudice the whole morale of the Luftwaffe." See also, Dr Horst Boog, "Luftwaffe and Logistics in the Second World War," Aerospace Historian, June 1988.

(31.) The Supply Organisation of the German Air Force, 229-231.

(32.) Dr Horst Boog, The Luftwaffe and The Battle of Britain, The Battle Re-Thought, RAFHS, 1990, and Hugh Trevor-Roper, Hitler's War Directives, London, 1964.

(33.) AAHB/VII/39, 7. This total does not include the 190 aircraft of Luftlotte 5 based in Norway.

(34.) Bomber Command had commenced strategic attacks on Germany from the night of 14/15 May 40.

(35.) PRO AIR 20/307.

(36.) The figures for Fighter Command are somewhat higher than those quoted in other sources but have been taken directly from PRO AIR 20/2307. Nevertheless, it is the trend that is important rather than precise strength levels.

(37.) Franks.

(38.) AHB VII/83.

(39.) The Luftwaffe data represent total wastage (destroyed and damaged for the entire fighter force on operational and training sorties). The Fighter Command data are from PRO AIR 20/307 and record gross wastage on the operational squadrons. The wastage rates for Nov and Dec 40 have been estimated from the known operational losses.

(40.) PRO AIR 20/1835.

(41.) Dempster and Wood, The Narrow Margin, London, 1961.

(42.) Official History, 185-186.

(43.) An analysis undertaken by the Fighter Command Research Branch in 1949 (PRO AIR 16/1047) indicates that the average number of serviceable aircraft per squadron across 11 and 13 groups was in excess of 15 for the period July to Oct 40.

(44.) Overy, 33.

(45.) Hooton, Eagle in Flames, 21.

(46.) Data drawn from the AHB Narrative and Overy.

(47.) Dr Robin Higham, The Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain, Centre for Air Force History, 1994.

(48.) Taken from Hooton, 14-15. The Luftwaffe figures have been abated by 20 percent since Bf 110, and fighter-bomber sorties have been included in Hooton's total.

(49.) This is described in some detail by Dempster and Wood, 103-105, and in PRP AVIA 46/168.

(50.) Wg Comdr Asher Lee, The German Air Force, London, 1946, 234-235. Repair turnaround times are not known, but prior to the war periods, in excess of 3 months were average, Homze, 156.

(51.) This largely explains why ASU reserves fell so rapidly, notwithstanding the overall positive production position--an apparent anomaly identified by Higham, 135.

(52.) Only 400 repaired Bf 109s were accepted by the Luftwaffe in 1940, equivalent to just 21 percent of new production. Harold Faber, Ed, Luftwaffe, Sidgwick and Jackson, 1979, 203.

(53.) Kesselring, Commander Luftflotte 2.

(54.) Between 15 Aug and 25 Sep 40, the Luftwaffe destroyed or badly damaged on the ground just 44 Hurricanes and Spitfires.

(55.) Dempster and Wood.

[Graph omitted]
 Single-Seat Fighter Production [19]
 Germany Great Britain
1939 1,541 1,324
1940 1,870 4,283
1941 2,852 7,064
1942 4,542 9,849
1943 9,626 10,727
 Hurricane Wastage During the Battle of France
Hurricanes Returned 15%
Abandoned 39%
Destroyed In Air Combat 17%
Los to Enemy 29%
Note: Table made from pie chart

[Graph omitted]
 Luftwaffe Order of Battle--August 1940 [33]
 Establishment Strength Serviceability
Bombers 1,569 1,481 998
Dive-bombers 348 327 261
Single-engine fighters 1,011 934 805
Twin-engine fighters 301 289 224
Reconnaissance 246 195 151
Ground attack 40 39 31
Coastal 94 93 80
Total 3,609 3,358 2,550
 Fighter Command Order of Battle--11 August 1940 [35]
 Establishment Strength Serviceability
Hurricanes 723 721 656
Spitfires 366 374 334
Total 1,089 1,095 990

[Graph omitted]

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[Graph omitted]

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[Graph omitted]
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Article Details
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Author:DYE, PETER J.
Publication:Air Force Journal of Logistics
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 22, 2000
Previous Article:Errata.
Next Article:Wartime Spares.

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