Edited by John Simkin, 12 November 2004 - 06:17 PM.
Battle of Britain
Posted 08 November 2004 - 03:54 PM
Posted 08 November 2004 - 04:49 PM
Personal misjudgements by Göring: No extra fuel tanks for his Me 109 fighter planes: this left his bombers unprotected.
What about changing tactics on the British side?
Posted 09 November 2004 - 12:21 PM
However, Hitler's generals were very worried about the damage that the Royal Air Force could inflict on the German Army during the invasion. Hitler therefore agreed to their request that the invasion should be postponed until the British airforce had been destroyed.
By the start of what became known as the Battle of Britain the Luftwaffe had 2,800 aircraft stationed in France, Belgium, Holland and Norway. This force outnumbered the RAF four to one. However, the British had the advantage of being closer to their airfields. German fighters could only stay over England for about half an hour before flying back to their home bases. The RAF also had the benefits of an effective early warning radar system and the intelligence information provided by Ultra.
The German pilots had more combat experience than the British and probably had the best fighter plane in the Messerschmitt Bf109. They also had the impressive Messerschmitt 110 and Junkers Stuka. The commander of Fighter Command, Hugh Dowding, relied on the Hawker Hurricane and the Supermarine Spitfire.
On the 12th August, 1940, the German airforce began its mass bomber attacks on British radar stations, aircraft factories and fighter airfields. During these raids radar stations and airfields were badly damaged and twenty-two RAF planes were destroyed. This attack was followed by daily raids on Britain.
As a result of the effective range of the Luftwaffe, the battle was mainly fought over southern England. This area was protected by Fighter Command No. 11 under Keith Park and Fighter Command No. 12 led by Trafford Leigh-Mallory. They also but received support from the squadrons based in the eastern counties.
Between 1st and 18th August the RAF lost 208 fighters and 106 pilots. The second half of the month saw even heavier losses and wastage now outstripped the production of new aircraft and the training of pilots to fly them. Those British pilots that did survive suffered from combat fatigue.
During the Battle of Britain Trafford Leigh-Mallory came into conflict with Keith Park, the commander of No. 11 Fighter Group. Park, who was responsible for the main approaches south-east of London, took the brunt of the early attacks by the Luftwaffe. Park complained that No. 12 Fighter Group should have done more to protect the air bases in his area instead of going off hunting for German planes to shoot down.
Leigh-Mallory obtained support from Vice Marshal William Sholto Douglas, assistant chief of air staff. He was critical of the tactics being used by Keith Park and Hugh Dowding, head of Fighter Command. He took the view that RAF fighters should be sent out to meet the German planes before they reached Britain. Park and Dowding rejected this strategy as being too dangerous and argued it would increase the number of pilots being killed.
The climax of the Battle of Britain came on the 30th-31st August, 1940. The British lost 50 aircraft compared to the Germany's 41. The RAF were close to defeat but Adolf Hitler then changed his tactics and ordered the Luftwaffe to switch its attack from British airfields, factories and docks to civilian targets. This decision was the result of a bombing attack on Berlin that had been ordered by Charles Portal, the new head of Bomber Command.
The Blitz brought an end to the Battle of Britain. During the conflict the Royal Air Force lost 792 planes and the Luftwaffe 1,389. There were 2,353 men from Great Britain and 574 from overseas who were members of the air crews that took part in the Battle of Britain. An estimated 544 were killed and a further 791 lost their lives in the course of their duties before the war came to an end.
Germany did not actually lose the Battle of Britain (it would be more accurate to call it a draw). The important thing was that Germany was unable to destroy the British airforce and therefore could not carry out Operation Sealion.
The reasons for this include:
(1) German fighters could only stay over England for about half an hour before flying back to their home bases.
(2) The RAF also had the benefits of an effective early warning radar system and the intelligence information provided by Ultra.
(3) When a German plane was shot down they lost their pilot (killed or taken prisoner). A large number of pilots survived the experience and was able to fly again.
(4) Hitler decided to redirect resources for the Blitz.
I believe that (4) was the most important. Winston Churchill is the man we have to thank for this. But that is another story.
Posted 09 November 2004 - 02:47 PM
I understand that at the time the RAF commanders found it very difficult culturally to accept that their pilots' actions would be controlled by people sitting in bunkers in Northwood and other places. Sir Douglas Bader was one of the key figures in getting Dowding removed, resulting in the temporary triumph air wing approach of having large numbers of planes in the air in advance of an attack, with the decisions about which targets to attack being largely handed over to the pilots in the air. One disadvantage of this approach was that planes often ran out of fuel before engaging in contact with the enemy, or had to return to base more quickly. Dowding's tactics had been based on maximising the amount of effective time each plane spent in the air.
Posted 09 November 2004 - 02:54 PM
I feel that Sir Hugh Dowding's contribution is often overlooked or downplayed. As I understand it he was the person responsible for developing the system of co-operation between radar stations/ground observers, strategic planners and fighter aircraft. In other words, the system which has later been adopted by more or less all airforces engaged in air combat.
I agree about Dowding. In 1940 Dowding worked closely with Air Vice Marshal Keith Park, the commander of No. 11 Fighter Group, in covering the evacuation at Dunkirk. Although Dowding only had 200 planes at his disposal he managed to gain air superiority over the Luftwaffe. However, he was unwilling to sacrifice his pilots in what he considered to be a futile attempt to help Allied troops during the Western Offensive.
During the Battle of Britain Dowding was criticized by Air Vice Marshal William Sholto Douglas, assistant chief of air staff, and Air Vice Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory, for not being aggressive enough. Douglas took the view that RAF fighters should be sent out to meet the German planes before they reached Britain. Dowding rejected this strategy as being too dangerous and argued it would increase the number of pilots being killed.
Dowding was credited with winning the Battle of Britain and was awarded the Knight Grand Cross. However, Air Chief Marshal Charles Portal, the new chief of the air staff, had agreed with William Sholto Douglas in the dispute over tactics and in November 1941, and Dowding was encouraged to retire from his post.
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