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The Battle of Britain, in 1940 and "Big Week," in 1944: a comparative perspective.


A fairly standard summary of the Battle of Britain might be that the German Luftwaffe, attacking Britain s air defenses in what it thought was overwhelming strength, was misled by their overclaiming successes in combat over enemy territory. The German air force believed it was shooting down nearly five Royal Air Force (RAF) aircraft for every three it had lost itself. Thus, the Germans were dismayed to find that RAF Fighter Command was fighting back in growing numbers and larger formations. Eventually, the Germans were forced to conclude that the British had been much stronger than originally estimated. (1) The various tactical disadvantages under which the Luftwaffe operated--British radar coverage of the French coast, the short range of the Messerschmitt Bf 109, Goring's badly timed alterations of the focus of attack, and his staff's poor use of available intelligence--are often rehashed. The relative weakness of the Luftwaffe attacks, perhaps the most important cause of its failure to overwhelm British opposition, has never been discussed. Comparison with the much more concentrated air superiority campaign fought by the U.S. Eighth and Fifteenth Air Forces in late February 1944, makes it clear however that the Luftwaffe failed because it had neglected the opportunity to capitalize on its numerical advantage.

Luftflotte 2 and Luftflotte 3, the two major German formations principally involved in the Battle of Britain, were marginally weaker in July 1940 than they had been at the outset of the campaign in the West in May 1940. (2) More than 500 bombers had been lost in that campaign and replacement, of both of aircrew and aircraft, was falling behind the rates being achieved by the RAF. (3) Gruppe I of Kampfgeschewader 1, for example, had thirty-two serviceable machines out of thirty-eight on September 1, 1939, twenty-five out of thirty-four on May 10, 1940 and only twenty-three out of twenty-seven on August 10, 1940, despite having experienced no combat losses for several weeks. (4) And though there were two Luftflotten not deployed in the battle of Britain (1 and 4)--they were essentially headquarters establishments, with no combat units that could be transferred to the English Channel zone. The only major combat formations not involved in the battle during the crucial weeks were two Gruppen of Jagdgeschwader 77 stationed in Norway and Denmark, and near Berlin. Kampfgeschwader 77 had been withdrawn from the front line in mid-July in order to replace its Dornier Do 17Zs with newer Junkers Ju 88s. Its return to action in mid-September may have been premature, since it lost no fewer than thirty aircraft in combat in ten days, September 18-27, nearly one third of its strength. (5)


Nevertheless, with nearly 900 serviceable twin-engine bombers, more than 300 Junkers Ju 87 dive-bombers, seven hundred Messerschmitt Bf 109, single-engine fighters, and some 200 Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engine fighters, Luftflotten 2 and 3 looked as if they should have been able to swamp the twenty-six Spitfire and Hurricane squadrons in Fighter Command's No. 11 Group and the adjacent sectors of Nos. 10 and 12 Group--about 500 aircraft--covering south-eastern England and London. Though the fighter squadrons in southern England were often engaged on a daily basis, and periodically replaced or, latterly, replenished from squadrons based outside the battle zone, the German Luftflotten never deployed their full strength at any one time. German staff papers show that on August 15, 1940, the day on which the Luftwaffe flew the greatest number of missions against England. Luftflotten 2 and 3 launched 1,149 fighter and 801 bomber sorties; other figures indicate 1,270 fighter and 520 bomber sorties. (6) The figures for fighter sorties are plausible--some units made two sorties that day--but comparison of British and German records suggested that only about 300 bombers from Luftflotten 2 and 3 crossed the coast: the attacks by Luftflotte 5's Kampfgeschwader 26 and 30 from Norway were in fact the heaviest attempted raids of the day. (7) On August 31, there were 1,301 German fighter sorties, with some units once more flying two sorties, but only 150 bomber sorties. (8) The heaviest bombing raid of the daylight battle (and the one that proportionately caused the most damage) was on September 7, when 348 bombers attacked London's docklands, with an escort of 617 fighters. (9) Tactics were constantly varied. On August 18, the 9th Staffel of the KG 76 carried out a daring low-level attack on Kenley aerodrome, without any escort at all but the rest of the Kampfgeschwader, along with KG 1-just over 100 bombers--had an escort of 410 fighters, whereas later that afternoon, 100 bombers of KG 2 and KG 53 attacked with an escort of only 120 fighters. On average, throughout the crucial phase of the battle, there seem to have been about three escorting fighters sortying for every bomber.


This is in striking contrast to the arrangements during "Big Week," February 20-25, 1944. During five days of attacks on German aircraft factories, the American Eighth Air Force flew 3,300 bomber and 2,548 fighter escort sorties, supplemented by 712 escort sorties by the Ninth Air Force. In the same period, the Fifteenth Air Force, based in Italy, flew just over 500 four-engine bomber sorties over Germany and 413 fighter escort sorties. (10) The two very different proportions of bombers-to-fighters had in one respect a surprisingly similar result. In both cases it turned out that bombers were at least three times more likely to be shot down than fighters. (11) This was also the experience of Fliegerkorps II when operating against Malta in 1942: more or less equal numbers of bombers and fighters in the attacking formations, but three times more bombers lost than fighters. (12)

The overall numbers involved in the Battle of Britain and in "Big Week" were not very different, though of course the four-engine Boeing B-17s featured in "Big Week" were larger than the German twin-engine bombers of four years earlier (even if not carrying much heavier bomb loads). The first raid of "Big Week," for example, involved 941 bombers and 832 fighters, numbers that Luftflotten 2 and 3 should have been able to match in 1940. The Germans could put up against them approximately the same number of fighters as were available to No. 11 Group and adjacent sectors in Nos. 10 and 12 Group three and a half years earlier. German losses during "Big Week" were 262 fighters shot down and about 250 aircrew (including rear-gunners in twin-engine fighters) killed or injured. (13) The Americans, while losing 226 heavy bombers (with more than 2,000 aircrew killed or taken prisoner) lost only twenty-eight fighters, so that fighter-to-fighter the Americans came out well ahead, whereas in the Battle of Britain RAF and Luftwaffe fighter losses ran approximately equal, roughly 900 to 800. It subsequently transpired that the damage to German factories in "Big Week" caused only a brief intermission in rising output, and the loss of trained fighter pilots, especially experienced unit commanders, turned out to be more important in the long term than the damage done by the bombing. (14) Because of the large crews of their four-engine bombers the Americans lost almost as many aircrew in six days as the Germans lost in more than three months in the Battle of Britain, but replacements were arriving in a constant stream from across the Atlantic, and since the object of both campaigns was to weaken the enemy's air defenses, "Big Week" can be counted as a significant--though costly--victory, not a defeat as the Battle of Britain had been for Germany.

Another feature of "Big Week" was the degree to which the Americans kept up the pressure. On one day out of six, February 23, 1944, bad weather prevented operations by the Eighth Air Force, although the Fifteenth Air Force sent out 102 bombers from Italy, but for 741 Eighth Air Force bomber crews dispatched on February 25, it was their fifth nine-hour mission in six days. The six days of most intense action in the battle of Britain were August 13-18, 1940. Though the distances to be flown were less than a third flown by the American bombers in "Big Week," only two German bomber units operated on even four of the six days. Again there was a one-day intermission, August 17: a Junkers Ju 88 on a night intruder mission was shot into the sea off Spurn Head and a Heinkel He 111 on an internal flight was destroyed by friendly fire when it strayed too close to a German flak position, but there were no RAF combat losses. (15) The weather however was fine so there seems to have been no good reason why the Germans gave the RAF a holiday. On the other five days, 255 German aircraft were shot down compared to 103 RAF fighters. The attackers' losses were probably not much different from those for "Big Week," but the difference in the number of bombers involved meant that whereas the Eighth Air Force lost only 4 percent of its bombers in the five days of action, more than half of the fifteen bomber Geschwader operating August 13-18, 1940 lost a demoralizing 10 percent or more of their crews; the two Gruppen-strong Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 lost something like 25 percent. (16) During "Big Week" moreover, the Americans dropped 10,000 tons of bombs on German aircraft factories, or at least in their vicinity, whereas during the period 13-18 August 1940, the Luftwaffe probably dropped only a fifth of that amount, in many instances jettisoning bomb loads short of target in order to escape from British fighters. In both cases available German aircraft were declining in numbers, while the enemy was increasing in strength.


One obvious reason for the Luftwaffe sending more fighters than bombers across the Channel in the Battle of Britain was the belief that there should be at least two, if not three, escorting fighters for every bomber. (17) Whereas the American bomber pilots were trained to fly in defensive boxes that occupied as much sky vertically as horizontally, the German bombers not only operated at lower altitudes but also flew in formations that spread out mainly sideways, thereby taking up more airspace for their escorts to cover. They also had less effective defensive armament than the American bombers. While the Americans were to learn, as the Germans and British had learned that no bomber could defend itself with guaranteed success against determined fighter attacks, fire from bombers' gun positions was never an entirely negligible factor. During the Schweinfurt-Regensburg mission of August 17, 1943, 376 Boeing B-17s penetrated deep into air space without fighter escort (accompanying Republic P-47s, being shorter-ranged had to turn back near the German border) and claimed to have shot down 288 Luftwaffe fighters, with a further eighty-one probably downed. In fact, they had shot down twenty-one compared to fifty-one B-17s shot down by German fighters. (18) It was, therefore, untrue that increasing the number of bombers had no effect other than simply increasing the number of potential targets for the defending fighters: bombers could defend themselves, even if only on unfavorable terms. Moreover, while bombers were at a disadvantage in combat with defending fighters, the defending fighters were at a disadvantage with regard to the bombers' fighter escort. In the Schweinfurt-Regensburg raid, for example, three Eighth Air Force P-47 fighters and four RAF fighters were lost in the initial combats before having to turn back at the German frontier, along with four B-17 bombers (plus one downed by the flak); but twenty-one German fighters were shot down in this phase of the action. (19) In the Battle of Britain, where losses of fighters were approximately equal on both sides, the RAF were on occasion guided by ground controllers to meet formations that consisted only of Messerschmitt Bf 109s fighters--despite the complaints of German fighter pilots that they were being tied down by being required to provide close escort for their bombers. As late as September 15, half the German fighter units operating over southeastern England were engaged in sweeps, or Freiejagd with no accompanying bombers--and in the later stages of the battle No. 12 Group's Duxford Wing employed its Spitfires to give protection from German fighters to its slower Hurricanes while the latter engaged German bombers. Some pilots, like Richard Hillary, seem only ever to have been in action against Bf 109s. (20) Nevertheless it is broadly true that interceptions were directed primarily against the bomber component of an enemy attack. This gave a tactical advantage to the escorting fighters, who in any case would often benefit from being at a higher altitude than either the bombers or the enemy fighters that had just taken off to attack them. Before "Big Week," Lt. Gen. James Doolittle, the Eighth Air Force's commander, had informed his subordinates that the mission of the fighters was not to bring the bombers back safely, as had been official U. S. Army Air Forces doctrine since before Pearl Harbor, but simply to shoot down Germans. (21) In a sense bombers served accompanying fighters as bait: and the more bait there was, the more the defending fighters exposed themselves to counter-attacks by fighter escorts. It also seems that the more bombers there were, the more frustrated, and eventually demoralized, the defending fighter pilots felt if the escorts made it impossible to get at them. (22)


When the Luftwaffe's failure to use its full bomber strength in the Battle of Britain was remarked on after the war, two of its senior officers, Generalfeldmarschall Erhard Milch and Generalleutenant Adolf Galland, offered the explanation that the main object of German attacks in 1940 had been to draw the RAF into fighter-versus-fighter combat with a view to employing available bombers in greater numbers after British fighter defenses had been eliminated. (23) There is no record of this strategy having been spelled out or in any way discussed in 1940, and since Milch was State Secretary i.e. administrative head of the Air Ministry in Berlin and Galland only a Gruppe commander, their testimony is not authoritative. In fact, German fighter units were instructed on September 9, 1940, that their first priority was to protect German bombers, not to attack RAF fighters, the exact opposite of Doolittle's tactics in February 1944. (24) A week later, Goring was talking glibly of continuing daylight raids on London "to wear down and decimate enemy fighters" (zur Zermurbung und Dezimierung der feindlichen Jager) but this was little more than waffle. Since Milch is known to have attended this meeting it may have been the origin of his subsequent interpretation of the campaign. (25) By this stage, Luftwaffe commanders were beginning to realize that the battle had been effectively lost, and there were to be only two more large scale daylight attacks on London, resulting in the loss of 103 German aircraft for forty-eight British.

One consideration that influenced the Luftwaffe's planning was uncertainty with regard to suitable targets. "Big Week" was part of a carefully planned long term program. It was hoped to show a clear result by the time of the projected invasion of northwest Europe, which was expected to be launched three months later, but the strategic bombing campaign was intended to continue after the invasion. In fact, 65 percent of the total weight of bombs dropped by the U. S. Eighth and Fifteenth Air Force and RAF Bomber Command were dropped after D-Day. (26) It was not appreciated until after the war that the damage caused by bombing to the German war economy may not have been commensurate with the human, material, and financial cost of carrying out the strategic bombing offensive. Though dismayed by the 19 percent losses in the Schweinfurt-Regensburg raid of August 17, 1943, the Eighth Air Force regarded the 4 percent losses in bombers during "Big Week" as a reasonable price for the crippling damage supposedly inflicted on the German aircraft industry. The Luftwaffe's assault on Britain in 1940 was, in conceptual terms, an entirely different matter. It was not part of a long term program. In fact, it had not ever been envisaged three months earlier. It was not hoped that the benefits might be evident in three months' time, it was categorically required to show significant results before an invasion could be launched in about one month's time. It was not carefully !planned. The Luftflotten commanders submitted their revised suggestions for the assault on southern England together with the views of their Fliegerkorps commanders only on August 1, 1940, and Reichsmarschall Goring was ready with his comments, not after days of consultation with his staff, but within a few hours. (27) Fliegerkorps I and II provided relatively specific proposals for a strategy for the campaign, but there were never any detailed plans or detailed instructions as such. In practice the Fliegerkorps H. Q.s fixed the time of attacks, and individual Geschwader commanders made their own decisions with regard to targets, routes and rendezvous points with other Geschwader. (28) By September, when Luftflotte 3 had transferred its fighters to Luftflotte 2 and was concentrating on night attacks, the two Luftflotten in France and Belgium were essentially conducting two separate campaigns, but this was also essentially the case when they were both carrying out daylight attacks in August. On August 15, for example, the main attack by Luftflotte 2 was nearly two hours earlier than the main attack by Luftflotte 3, which might in theory have enabled some RAF fighter squadrons to refuel between attacks and deal with each one separately.


The Luftwaffe was basically not organized to plan an air supremacy campaign. Goring, who may justly be held responsible for most of the Luftwaffe's errors, then and later, did in fact understand most of the issues, but he was not accustomed to working with a staff. His Chief of Staff, Hans Jeschonnek, and his head of intelligence, Josef "Beppo" Schmid, were relatively inexperienced men who were too young even to have served in World War I. Albert Kesselring, commanding Luftflotte 2 had been an artillery officer holding a staff appointment in the First World War and his chief of staff, Wilhelm Speidel, had commanded a battalion of storm troops. Hugo Sperrle, commanding Luftflotte 3, was the only senior Luftwaffe commander with a background similar to that of most senior RAF officers: he had been in charge of the aviation attached to an army. His chief of staff, Gunther Korten, had been an infantry officer and his head of operations, Karl Koller, though a fighter pilot in World War I, had been a teacher in the police academy at Munich until five years before the Battle of Britain began. It is not clear whether the officers in charge of the fighter component of the two Luftflotten, Generalmajor Kurt-Bertram von Doring and Oberst Werner Junck, both fighter pilots in World War I, were even asked to make a formal contribution to the overall planning. It is also not clear whether Doring's six years as an instructor in Argentina and Peru in the 1920s and two years in China in the early 1930s would have stood him in good stead when he took on RAF Fighter Command. (29)


The Battle of Britain provides a curious gloss on that supposed speciality of the German military, Auftragstaktik, the principle of telling subordinate commanders what the ultimate objective is and then letting them make their own choice with regard to means. In Britain the Air Council (effectively the Chief of Air Staff) issues directives to the Air Officers Commanding in Chief (AOC-in-C) of the different commands. These corresponded to the instructions issued to commanders-in-chief of expeditions sent overseas in earlier wars. In the case of Bomber Command, these directives specified which industrial sectors of the enemy war economy should be the focus of attack, and the AOC-in-C issued instructions based on these directives, detailing target locations and dates in the case of major operations, to his group commanders. Then the group commanders issued their own version of these instructions to base commanders, making their own choice of which commanders to employ on particular operations. In some cases the group commanders' instructions were called directives and were couched in terms not unlike those of an Air Council directive. In the case of Fighter Command squadron leaders, though under the orders of their sector commanders, made their own choices about combat tactics and once in the air, though receiving directions from their sector's operations room, could use their own initiative. In 1940, no officer commanding a formation larger than a squadron flew in combat. (30) This seems to be something like Auftragstaktik in practice. In the Luftwaffe, at least during the Battle of Britain, there seems to have been only a general idea of the ultimate objective--the domination of British air space--and no very precise idea of the steps to be taken to achieve this objective. Seize the top of Hill 60 is clear enough, the hill is at map reference so and so, one is either on it or not on it, the enemy are either still holding out in some positions or they are not holding out, and there is plenty of scope for a subordinate commander to make up his own mind how best to get rid of them. Seize air superiority is not clear enough, as air superiority has no map reference and enemy aircraft based 1,000 miles away might bomb your victory celebrations at five hours' notice, and the speed of aircraft means that all operations within hundreds of cubic miles of sky need to be coordinated. At every level in the Luftwaffe the objective to be aimed at was discussed in general terms but never sufficiently specified, and it was left to the combat units to select, not only their means, but also their targets.

A key consideration in the Luftwaffe's selection of targets in the Battle of Britain seems to have been the fact that the really vital targets were regarded as being not yet available. Attacking the RAF's sources of supply, especially the aero-engine industry, was included in one of the four proposals which Fliegerkorps I tabled on August 1, 1940, in response to Goring's request for suggestions with regard to how best to carry out an aerial assault on Britain, but it was fully realized from the outset that most of Britain's aircraft and aero-engine industry was some distance north of London and, because of the limited range of the Messerschmitt Bf 109, could only be bombed after RAF fighter opposition had been eliminated. (31) Secondly, the whole air superiority campaign was intended to be simply a prelude to an invasion that would be launched just as soon as air superiority had been achieved. In the six weeks of the campaign in France and the Low Countries the Luftwaffe had lost 1,469 aircraft: it needed to be in a position to sustain a similar effort once the invasion force embarked. At least two of the Kampfgeschwader, KG 1 in Fliegerkorps I (in Luftflotte 2) and KG 54 on Fliegerkorps V (in Luftflotte 3) seem deliberately to have been held back during the earlier stages of the battle, presumably because the main effort was expected to come later.

The Luftwaffe also, like the Americans in "Big Week," overestimated the effectiveness of its bombing. On August 12, 1940, for example the Junkers Ju 88s of Kampfgeschwader 51 bombed Portsmouth dockyards and the radar station at Ventnor, on the Isle Wight, fifteen miles away. The radar station was completely knocked out, though it was replaced by a mobile unit within a few days. The damage sustained by the dockyards was summarized in a report drawn up not quite two weeks later. More than 200 250-kg bombs seem to have been dropped, though the authorities could only account for about 170 of them. It is not clear whether the seventy-two bombs stated to have fallen on the Isle of Wight included those aimed at Ventnor. Probably not since nearly sixty fell on the north shore of the Solent outside the dockyard area, and perhaps as many as fifty others can only be accounted for by supposing they fell in the sea without anyone noticing. Of the forty-one that fell on the naval establishments, only eighteen caused damage thought worth reporting. The Chain Cable Test House lost its roof and a gear wheel on one of the huge machines were smashed. The western end of No. 14 Storehouse was demolished. The basement offices of Dockyard Area Headquarters were wrecked. The walls of No. 1 Dock were damaged. No. 3 Rigging Shed collapsed. Operating gear of "B" Lock caisson was damaged, and the north wall of "C" Lock was badly bulged. The adjacent rail and crane tracks were demolished. Lots of windows were broken and thirty-foot-wide, fifteen-foot deep craters were left here and there, some of them in roadways. Seventeen service personnel were killed, but most of them were in the RAF, not in the Royal Navy. A female canteen worker suffered abrasions and shock. (32) By 1940 standards this was a major raid, but it can be seen that it was a long way from putting Portsmouth dockyard out of action.

The Luftwaffe was only slightly more successful in its attacks on Fighter Command aerodromes. In the three weeks up to September 7, thirteen Fighter Command bases underwent altogether more than forty attacks. (33) Manston was attacked five times between 12:45 and 5:30 PM on August 24, 1940, also being bombed on August 12, 14, 16, and September 3. (34) Air Vice Marshal Keith Park, commanding No. 11 Group, reported that "Sector Operations Rooms have on three occasions been put out of action, either by direct hits or by damage to GPO cables, and all Sectors took into use their Emergency Operations Rooms, which were not only too small to house essential personnel, but had never been provided with the proper scale of GPO landlines to enable normal operation of three squadrons per Sector." He pointed out that "Biggin Hill was so severely damaged that only one squadron could operate from there.... Had the enemy continued his heavy attacks against the adjacent sectors and knocked out their Operations Rooms or telephone communications, the fighter defenses of London would have been in a perilous state." (35) The enemy did not continue his heavy attacks after September 6, turning instead to London. Park's superior, Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, AOC-in-C Fighter command, acknowledged only a small impact on the efficiency of his command. (36) He also rebutted Park's complaints regarding the inadequacy of the arrangements made for repairing aerodromes after they had been attacked. (37) Incidentally, the RAF was carrying out attacks on Luftwaffe bases in the same period: 1,079 such sorties were flown in July and August 1940, though many were aborted owing to insufficient cloud cover, since the British bombers--mostly Bristol Blenheims--were ordered not to attack if there was less than seven/ten cloud cover near the target. (38) In the most successful of these attacks, eight Heinkel He 111s were destroyed and two damaged at Eindhoven on September 10. (39) The most damaging airfield attack of the entire battle, however, occurred on August 16, when two Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88s made direct hits on hangars at Brize Norton, destroying no fewer than forty-six aircraft--but these were Airspeed Oxford crew trainers and of no value in combat. (40) Obviously, those attacks were on the right lines, but overestimation of the results obtained probably contributed to the decision not to carry them out on a larger scale. Bearing in mind the time scale of the campaign, it may well be that not carrying out attacks on RAF bases with a much greater proportion of available bomber strength was a bigger error than giving them up too soon.


It should always be remembered that the Battle of Britain was a new departure. As a pre-war U.S. Navy memo had pointed out, "a sustained air offensive against an enemy's interior organization will be a test for aviation strategy which will lie entirely outside the sphere of normal military and naval activities." (41) Both sides were on unfamiliar ground and suffered from what now seem to be errors in pre-war planning; the RAF's formation tactics were inappropriate. Its ground control system was probably unnecessarily complicated, and the rifle-calibre machine guns carried on nearly all Spitfires and Hurricanes were less effective than the 20mm cannon carried by German fighters (though the cannon in question, the MG FF, had a much lower muzzle velocity than the machine guns also carried by the same airplane, which meant that when one had to lead a target moving transversely across one's sights either the stream of machine gun bullets would be ahead of the target or else the cannon shells would be behind). (42)

The short range of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 was a major factor in the Luftwaffe campaign, as it meant escorted daylight raids on key industrial targets were not feasible: the combat range of the Spitfire was even shorter but that did not become an issue until the battle was over and the RAF went over to the offensive. This is just one instance of how pre-war misjudgements on either side that were comparable in the scale of error in practice worked much more significantly against the Germans than against the British. Another example is investment in aircraft designs that turned out to be at a disadvantage in combat. The Junkers Ju 87 dive-bomber and Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engine fighter proved, in August 1940, to be major disappointments for the Luftwaffe: but so did the Boulton Paul Defiant (a single-engine fighter with a four-gun rear turret) for the RAF. The difference was that the Luftwaffe deployed twelve Gruppen of Ju 87s and eight of Bf 110s, whereas the RAF deployed only two squadrons (together approximately equivalent to one Gruppe) of Defiants. (43) In the end the RAF was operating to a carefully prepared plan conceived with a view to being sustained indefinitely-and this is also true of the USAAF in "Big Week"--whereas the Luftwaffe was improvising in condition it had never anticipated, and on an impossibly tight schedule. It probably could have swamped RAF Fighter Command in the summer of 1940, but only if it had thrown all caution to the winds and attacked with its entire strength, bombers as well as fighters. As it was, it failed simply because it had not grasped the parameters of the task it had set itself.



(1.) Between July 10 and Oct. 31, 1940, RAF Fighter Command claimed 2, 698 German aircraft destroyed (the actual figure was 1,733) and lost 915 aircraft: the Luftwaffe claimed to have shot down 3,058. Denis Richards and Hillary St. George Saunders, Royal Air Force 1939-1945 (London, 1974 edition) vol. 1 p. 190fn.

(2.) See figures in A. D. Harvey, 'The French Armee de l'Air in May-June 1940: a failure of conception', Journal of Contemporary History vol. 25 (1990), p. 447-65 at p. 447 and Richard Hough and Denis Richards, The Battle of Britain: a Jubilee History (London, 1989) p. 379, appendix VIII.

(3.) Williamson Murray, Luftwaffe: a History (London 1985) p. 44, Table III

(4.) Henry L. De Zeng IV and Douglas G. Stankey, Bomber Units of the Luftwaffe 1933-1945 (2 vols. Hinckley/Hersham 2007-8) vol. 1 p. 14. For individual Luftwaffe losses (showing unit) see Winston G. Ramsey ed. The Battle of Britain Then and Now (London 1980) p. 537-704.

(5.) De Zeng and Stankey, Bomber Units of the Luftwaffe, vol. 2 pp. 251,252,256. On Aug. 13, Bf 109s of JG 77 shot down eleven out of twelve Bristol Blenheims attempting to attack the aerodrome at Aalborg: the twelfth had turned back early.

(6.) Bundesarchiv-Militarchiv, Freiburg, RL 2/v 3019, 8 Abt. Generalstab der Luftwaffe; Richards and Saunders, Royal Air Force vol. 1 p. 170.

(7.) For multiple missions by fighter pilots see e.g. Donald L. Caldwell, JG 26: Top Guns of the Luftwaffe (London 1991) p. 42 and Robert Michulec and Donald Caldwell, Adolf Galland, (Sandomierz 2003) p. 19. On the Russian front in early Aug. 1943, Erich Hartmann flew 20 missions totalling 18 hours and 29 minutes in six days: see Ursula Hartmann, Der Jagdflieger Erich Hartmann: Bilder and Dokumente (Stuttgart, 1978) p. 102-3. In the Battle of Britain the average of 99 pilots in six squadrons studied was 1.9 sorties totalling 1 hour 36 minutes per day, though one pilot flew 19 sorties totalling 12 hours 50 minutes in a week: S. C. Rexford-Welch, ed. The Royal Air Force Medical Services (3 vols, London, 1954-8) vol. 1 pp. 180-81. These sorties did not of course involve a double sea crossing as was the case with Luftwaffe pilots in the Battle of Britain: on the other hand several squadrons flew four sorties (i. e. crossed the Channel eight times) during the attack in Dieppe on Aug. 19, 1942; Group Captain Harry Broadhurst, Deputy SASO No. 11 Group, who also made four flights over Dieppe that day, was in the air for more than eight hours: Norman L. R. Franks, The Greatest Air Battle: Dieppe, 19th August 1942 (London 1979) p. 188, needless to say one would not be able sustain such a pace for several days in succession.

(8.) Caius Bekker, The Luftwaffe War Diaries: The German Air Force in World War H (New York, 1994 edit.) p. 169-70.

(9.) Francis K. Mason, Battle over Britain: a history of the German assault on Great Britain 1917-1918 and July-December 1940, and the development of Britain's Air Defences between the World Wars (Bourne End 1990 edit.) p. 289.

(10.) Arthur B. Ferguson, "Big Week" in Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate eds. The Army air Forces in World War H (7 vols. Chicago, 1948-58) vol. 3 p. 30-66 at p. 43. See also Stephen L. McFarland and Wesley Phillips Newton, To Command the Sky: the Battle for Air Superiority over Germany, 1942-1944 (Washington 1991) p. 174-91 and Eric Hammel, The Road to Big Week: the Struggle for Daylight Air Supremacy over Western Europe: July 1942-February 1944 (Pacifica 2009) p. 335-56, though this add little significant to Ferguson's account.

(11.) Ferguson, 'Big Week', p. 43, cf. Ramsey, Battle of Britain Then and Now, p. 707 which indicates 871 German fighters lost in the Battle of Britain to over 1,000 bombers and other types. In the Eighth Air Force the bombers were usually about five times more likely to fail to return than fighters and if the figures are combined with those of the Fifteenth Air force, in which bomber losses were proportionately much higher, the ratio is even greater, but the fighters spent a shorter time in German air space than the bombers. On the other hand anti-aircraft fire was a bigger factor in 1944 than in 1940:79 per cent of instances of damage to Eighth Air Force bombers returning from missions in February 1944 were attributed to Flak: The National Archives, Kew, AIR 22/350, 'Eighth Air Force: Monthly Summary of Operations: Jan, Feb, Mar, 1944' (also in National Archives Washington).

(12.) Paul Deichmann, Der Chef im Hintergrund: ein Leben als Soldat von der preussischen Armee zur Bundeswehr (Oldenburg 1979) p. 150 gives 5,807 German bomber sorties over Malta Mar. 20-Apr. 28, 1942, and 5,667 fighter sorties; Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, Malta; the Spitfire Years (London, 1991) p. 645 gives for the longer period Dec. 19, 1941 to Nov. 7, 1942, Luftwaffe losses of 64 Messerschmitt Bf 109s and 178 Junkers Ju 87s and Ju 88s. As the defending RAF fighters were relatively less numerous in the Malta Campaign, the bomber component of the attacking Luftwaffe formations tended to be much larger.

(13.) Donald Caldwell and Richard Muller, The Luftwaffe over Germany: Defence of the Reich (London 2007) p. 156-162, cf. E. R. Hooton, Eagle in Flames: the Fall of the Luftwaffe (London 1997) p. 269, table 75 which gives a figure of 172 killed or missing in action and 49 wounded for the whole of February.

(14.) Ferguson, "Big Week' p. 44: the Americans estimated that they had destroyed 75 percent of the buildings in the plants responsible for 90 percent of German aircraft production, but German figures suggest that reorganization and dispersal of plant to reduce the effect of future attacks may have caused more disruption than bombing. In any case deliveries of new fighter aircraft from factories and repair shops in Dec. 1944 were at more than twice the level of Jan. 1944. See also Bekker, The Luftwaffe Diaries, p. 350, 353-4.

(15.) Ramsey, The Battle of Britain Then and Now, p. 366 and 380-81.

(16.) Ibid. p. 567-88 the two Gruppen of St. G2, already below their combined establishment of 80 two-seater Junkers Ju 87, lost six aircraft on Aug. 13, three on Aug. 15 and nine on Aug. 16: and in addition there was one dead and five wounded crew members aboard four of the aircraft that returned to base.

(17.) Deichmann, Der Chef im Hintergrund, p. 109.

(18.) Martin Middlebrook, The Schweinfurt-Regensburg Mission; American Raids on 17 August 1943 (London, 1983) p. 279-80, 284-86.

(19.) Ibid. p. 286

(20.) Christopher Shores and Clive Williams, Aces High: a Tribute to the Most Notable Fighter Pilots of the British and Commonwealth Forces in World War H (London, 1994) p. 329, and see also John Schellenberger, "Richard Hillary and the Battle of Britain, "Aerospace Historian vol. 35 (1988) p. 198-99. Between Aug. 29 and Sep. 3, 1940, Hillary shot down five Bf 109s, with two more probably destroyed and another damaged.

(21.) Lowell Thomas and Edward Jablonski, Bomber Commander: the Life of James Doolittle (London, 1977) p. 267. See also Richard G. Davis, CarlA. Spaatz: and the Air War in Europe (Washington, 1993) p. 359-60.

(22.) See for example Heinz Knoke's diary entry for 22 February 1944 in Heinz Knoke, I Flew For the Fuhrer: the Story of a German Airman (London, 1953)p. 143.

(23.) T. C. G. James, The Battle of Britain (London, 2000) [Air Historical Branch narrative written 1943-1944 with post-war appendices] p. 400, Appendix 37.

(24.) Mason, Battle over Britain, p. 300.

(25.) Klaus Maier et al, Germany and the Second World War (9 vols. so far published Oxford 1990 -) vol. 2 p. 396, cf. original German text Das deutsche Reich und der zweite Weltkrieg (10 vols. Stuttgart 1979-2008) vol. 2 p. 390, cf Hough and Richards Battle of Britain p. 365 for the raids on Sep. 27 and 30.

(26.) David Brown, Christopher Shores, Kenneth Macksey, The Guinness History of Air Warfare (Abingdon, 1976) p. 154.

(27.) Bundesarchiv-Militararchiv, Freiburg, RL 2 II/30, memo of Aug. 2, 1940, referring to a conference the previous day.

(28.) Deichmann, Der Chef in Hintergrund, p. 115-6. Deichmann, Chief of Staff of Fliegerkorps II, actually states that he himself gave the order to a staff officer: he does not say if the Fliergerkorps commander, First World War ace Bruno Loerzer, gave any order to him.

(29.) For biographical details of the officers referred to see Karl Hildebrand, Der Generale der deutschen Luftwaffe 1935-1945 (3 vols Osnabruck 1990-92) passim.

(30.) The highest ranking Fighter Command officer to be killed in the Battle of Britain was Wing Commander John Scatliff Dewar DSO, DFC, who crashed on Oct. 12, 1940, while en route from Exeter (where he was station commander) to Tangmere. The Luftwaffe lost four full colonels--Group Captain would be the equivalent rank--including two Kampfgeschwader commodores and the Chief of Staff of Fliegerkorps V, Alois Stoeckel. Later in the war Bomber Command station commanders of similar rank sometimes flew as passengers on bombing missions, and Air Vice Marshal Basil Embry flew as a pilot (with a wing commander's rank stripes and identity papers) on Mosquito missions while commanding No. 2 Group. Eighth Air Force commander James H. Doolittle, who had led the first air raids carried out on both Tokyo and Rome, was ordered not to fly with the USAAF's first Berlin mission in case he was taken prisoner: he knew too much about the intended D-Day landings.

(31.) Bundesarchiv-Militararchiv, Freiburg, RL 2 II]27, 'Bemerkung des Herrn Reichsmarschalls tiber die Kampffuhrung in der Besprechung von 19.8.40.'

(32.) The National Archives, Kew, ADM 1/10949, Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth to Admiralty, 25 Aug. 25, 1940, with enclosures. This report estimates the force attacking Portsmouth at about 55: Wolfgang Dierich, Kampfgeschwader 'Eidelweiss': the History of a German Bomber Unit, 1935-1945 (London, 1975) p. 38 states that it was 70 aircraft, which would mean another 60 bombs unaccounted for and presumably dropped in the sea.

(33.) The National Archives, Kew, AIR 16/635, Sir Hugh Dowding, AOC.-in-C. Fighter Command, to Undersecretary of State, Air Ministry, Sep. 22, 1940.

(34.) Ibid., 'Notes of damage and repair at certain fighter aerodromes,' Sep. 21, 1940.

(35.) Ibid., Air Vice Marshal Park, No. 11 group, to H. Q. Fighter Command, Sep. 12, 1940.

(36.) Ibid., Dowding to Undersecretary of State, Air Ministry, Sep. 22, 1940.

(37.) Ibid., Dowding to Undersecretary of State, Air Ministry, Sep. 22, 1940, and see also AIR 2/4576, Chief Engineer, May 29, 1940 and Air Vice Marshal T. G. Pike, Director of Organization August 1940, AIR 16/579, Pike to Home Commands Jun. 18, 1940 and note by Chief Engineer Sep. 3, 1940, and AIR 19/468 Sir Archibald Sinclair, Secretary of State for Air, to Winston Churchill Sep. 2, 1940.

(38.) Hough and Richards, Battle of Britain, p. 292, and see also The National Archives, Kew, AIR 14/3149 and AIR 37/50-51.

(39.) Ramsey, The Battle of Britain Then and Now, p. 636.

(40.) Hough and Richards, The Battle of Britain, p. 195-96.

(41.) H.H. Arnold, Global Mission, (New York, 1949) p. 168.

(42.) See the criticisms of Battle of Britain pilots H. R. Allen, Who Won the Battle of Britain? (London, 1974) p. 6465. 85-91, and K. W. Mackenzie, Hurricane Combat: the Nine Lives of a Fighter Pilot (London, 1987) p. 31, 71,

(43.) Defiants of No. 264 Squadron operating over Dunkirk on May 29, 1940 claimed 37 German aircraft destroyed for the loss only of a gunner who bailed out of an aircraft that afterwards returned to base: but once the German pilots realized that the Defiant had no forward-firing guns they found little difficulty in dealing with it.

Since completing his PhD at Cambridge, England, Arnold D. Harvey has taught at universities in Italy, France, and Germany. He is the author of Collision of Empires: Britain in Three Wars, 1793-1945 (1992), A Muse of Fire: Literature, Art, and War (1998), Arnhem (2001), and Body Politic: Political Metaphor and Political Violence (2007). Dr. Harvey has contributed to the RUSI Journal, and published articles on air warfare in several journals, including Air Power History, "Floatplanes, Flying Boats and Oceanic Warfare, 1939-1945." [Winter 2010]
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Author:Harvey, Arnold D.
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Date:Mar 22, 2012
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