13 July, 2010

Day 4 - Battle of Britain

As the pilots of Fighter Command took to the skies, the country's most popular tabloid, the Daily Mirror, on its front page was lauding the heroism of the RAF. But the plaudits were for Bomber Command. The media had not yet caught up with the narrative. This became something of an interesting phenomenon. From an outsider's perspective, there appeared to be a significant element of competition between the Commands, and there was certainly not yet any public perception of a coherent battle developing.

However, the Germans were getting more organized. Under General Albert Kesselring, commanding the Second Air Fleet, Kommodore Johannes Fink had been appointed Kanalkampführer to take charge of attacking shipping in the Channel area. He set up his headquarters in an old bus near the statue of Louis Blériot on top of the cliffs at Cap Blanc Nez.

Under Fink's direction that day, there were two sharp engagements off Dover, in which the Germans claimed two Spitfires and six Hurricanes, admitting the loss of five. During the day, destroyer HMS Vanessa (pictured below) led Convoy CW5 out of the port. She immediately came under air attack and was disabled by near misses from several bombs. She was towed in to Sheerness by the destroyer Griffin, and did not emerge from its repairs until 4 November.

Once again, the action was not confined to the south-east. There were also attacks on two convoys off Harwich, carried out by aircraft of the Fifth Air Fleet, commanded by General Hans-Jürgen Stumpff. They were operating out of Dutch, Danish and Norwegian airfields. Then, during the night, there was airborne minelaying in the Thames Estuary. Once again, the Luftwaffe was most definitely fulfilling Directive No. 9 objectives. This could not be characterized as a battle devoted to breaking down the strength of the RAF, which was said to be the German aim in the official Battle of Britain narrative.

Furthermore, only part of the British effort involved fighters. Overnight, Nos 53 and 59 Sqns sent their Blenheims on a strike against what were claimed to be "invasion barges" moored in the canals near Bruges. Possibly, they were normal commercial barges as no order to prepare them for the invasion had yet been given. On its return, a No. 59 Sqn Blenheim crashed into the sea off Shoreham, killing all the crew. Their bodies were recovered from the sea. One Blenheim of No. 82 Sqn was lost over the sea on a raid to Hamburg. Another, also on the raid, failed to return, its crew missing presumed dead.

When Coastal Command losses were added to Fighter Command losses, which totalled five for the day, the RAF was ten down against six lost to the Luftwaffe. In the more important metric of fighter pilots, the British lost four, two over the Channel, bringing the cumulative total to fourteen since 10 July. The Luftwaffe had lost two Me 109 pilots in the same period. Fighter Command was losing the battle.

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