01 August, 2010

Day 23 - Battle of Britain

Amazingly, with a full-blown war going on, the back page lead of the Daily Mirror is another attack on "Cooper's snoopers" - called "noseys" by this newspaper.  It tells of how the Chief Constable of Derby has warned householders that only the police have any authority to ask questions of them.  Ministry of Information investigators do not carry permits, he says.

There is also an attack on Home Secretary John Anderson, targeting the emergency powers he is putting before Parliament. Of the regulation on subversive articles in the Press, the paper retails the view of an Lancashire Labour MP that, in "the hands of an unscrupulous Government or Minister, it would enable the Executive to prevent the expression of any kind of opinion in any newspaper at all." It gives him complete power over the whole Press of the country and places him in a position no whit inferior to that occupied bv Dr Göbbels In Germany, is the charge.

The contrast with the treatment of another piece of news is quite remarkable. "Invasion off, says Gayda" runs the headline in the Daily Express, but this is tucked away on page two, in a Reuters report. The "parrot voice" of Mussolini, had "changed his tune today" when he confessed in an article in the Giornale d'ltalia that a lightning victory against Britain was impossible. His revised prediction is that Britain "will be worn down in a war of attrition".

"The last phase of the war", says Gayda, "cannot proceed in a manner similar to that which struck down France, not only because Britain is an island, militarily well defended, but also because Britain has an Empire which extends to all continents and which is taking part with imposing forces in the war. The war must rather be one of continual hammering and attrition. This is just what Italy and Germany are doing now."

Gayda is by no means an unreliable commentator and, with his close association with Mussolini, it exceptionally well informed. Thus, the Associated Press, elaborates on his report, citing the German High Command. This  states that Britain would be brought down by bombing and blockage, by announcing "night raids ... against ships and facilities in southern English ports, as well as searchlight positions". Military observers in Germany have emphasised the point of making English ports useless for receiving war supplies.

And back in Germany, very serious developments are afoot. Since 19 July, a peace offer from Hitler has been on the table and the air attacks against Britain have involved only a small fraction of German strength.  But it must be clear to Hitler that his initiative is not going places - although he has yet to hear the final answer.

That the peace initiative is looking as if it might fail could be coincidental, but it is a matter of unarguable fact that on this day Hitler issues Führer Directive No. 17. "In order to establish the necessary conditions for the final conquest of England," he declares, "I intend to intensify air and sea warfare against the English homeland." So, the same day as the Gayda article, and almost completely contradicting it, Hitler is ordering the Luftwaffe to overpower the RAF "with all the forces at its command" in the shortest possible time. Attacks are to be against flying units, ground installations, supply organisations and also against the aircraft industry and manufacturers of anti-aircraft equipment.

After achieving temporary or local air superiority, the air war is to be continued against the ports, in particular against stores of food, and also against stores of provisions in the interior of the country. Attacks on the ports, however, "will be made on the smallest scale" in view of the forthcoming operations. Attacks on warships and merchant ships "may be reduced", although the Luftwaffe is instructed to give "adequate support" to naval operations and be ready to take part in full force in undertaking Sealion. "Terror attacks as measures of reprisal" are reserved specifically to Hitler.

Crucially though, the attack is not to begin until "on or after 5 August". After that date, the exact timing is for the Luftwaffe staff, according to weather conditions. But the attack is not to begin before then, giving time for Churchill's response to Hitler's "last chance" peace offer through the Swedish King.

In a separate order from OKW, Keitel refers to the Navy report stating that preparations for the invasion cannot be completed until 15 September, then conveying Hitler's order that "preparations are to continue" but "will cease" on the 15th. After eight, or at the most, 15 days after the start of the "great air attack", the Führer was then to decide whether Seelöw would go ahead. Even if there was then to be no invasion, preparations would resume but "in a form which will avoid the severe damage to the economic situation by the crippling of internal shipping traffic".

This morning is exceptionally quiet, with heavy mist over the Channel. The first significant air action is just after midday when radar picks up signs of a formation approaching two shipping convoys "Agent" and "Arena" just off the Yorkshire coast. Church Fenton sector controller scrambles No. 607 Sqn Usworth (Hurricanes) and No. 616 Sqn Leconfield (Spitfires).

At 13:10hrs, the squadrons locate a Junkers 88 and a Dornier 17 at sea, just below cloud base. On seeing the fighters, the bombers gain height and disappear into the protection of the cloud, after a short exchange of gunfire. The Ju 88 crashes into the North Sea around this time but there are no records of 607 or 616 Sqns claiming the kill. One Spitfire is damaged but lands safely at its base.

Radar at Pevensey then detects aircraft over the Channel heading for the south coast. In clearing conditions, Hurricanes from No. 145 Sqn  are scrambled. About eight miles off the coast from Hastings,  they engage a Henschel 126, shooting it down into the sea. Other Hurricanes engage a Ju 88, but the one that had attacked the Hs126 is seen to crash into the Channel. The Junkers tries to escape but is damaged. It manages to land at its base, but crew member Feldwebel Kohl is seriously injured. He dies two weeks later from his injuries.

The action also costs the life of Temporary S/Lt (A) Ian Herbert Kestin. He is the Hurricane pilot shot down by the Henschel (pictured above). Most likely, he is caught by fire from the observer's single machine gun - a "lucky" shot, but incredibly bad luck for Kestin.

He is another of those young men about whom we know so little. Son of Herbert James and Isobel Agnes Wilson Kestin, he was born on 24 July 1917 and hailed from Hatfield. Before the war he is an instructor at the London Aero Club but joins the Navy on 15 September 1939 - ostensibly an odd decision for a flyer. After training at HMS Daedalus and HMS Raven he joins No. 758 Sqn (FAA), flying Airspeed Oxfords. In early 1940, he volunteers for a fighter course and on 27 May is sent on one at HMS Raven. He is then attached to the RAF on 23 June and posted to 7 OTU Hawarden. Having converted to Hurricanes he is posted to No. 145 Squadron on 1 July.

His career as a fighter pilot lasts exactly one calendar month, earning him a place on the Lee on Solent Memorial (pictured above). The absence of a recorded grave suggests that his body was never found. Exactly how he met his death we will never know.  That is the reality for so many Battle of Britain pilots.

Even as S/Lt Kestin is being despatched to his watery grave, Norwich is being attacked. At about 15:15hrs, a single enemy raider drops bombs which fall at Boulton and Paul's Riverside Works. They cause "a great blaze in the joinery department and the office." It is the first time incendiaries are dropped within the city boundary.

Several workmen and others are killed, six in number, with 54 injured. Many windows are broken around King Street and Foundry Bridge, and before leaving the raider machine-guns the streets. No warning is given. It is subsequently announced, both by the BBC and in the press, that Norwich has been attacked. With the exception of an air attack on Dover harbour, no newspaper until this time has been permitted to divulge the name of any town or city raided.

The willingness of the government to allow the plant to be named may well have had something to do with the activities of William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) on Germany Calling. According to the BBC's own figures, at least half the country was listening occasionally and a third regularly to his propaganda from Germany. Details of his programmes were listed in The Times. Veteran political campaigner Ernie Rogers noted:
At the end of 1939 a German fighter-bomber made a hedge hopping attack on the Boulton and Paul factory where I was working though his bombs missed. That night "Haw Haw" reported the raid and how the pilot had been decorated for bravery. His broadcast was reported in the British Press otherwise the raid would not have been revealed. Next day in the Boulton Paul canteen about a thousand workers heard on the BBC radio news how Boulton Paul, now engaged on the large scale production of Defiant fighter planes had escaped destruction. The factory exploded in laughter as there were only three or four prototypes in the flight shed. This is the only time that I experienced the effect of the Joyce broadcasts. He did become a counter attraction to the BBC official broadcasts.

As evidenced by Rogers, this is by no means the first time Norwich has been attacked, and it will not be the last. Multiple raids are recorded. Already the scars from the raid of 9 July are visible, in the burnt-out Carrow Works (pictured above).

That same afternoon, Luftwaffe aircraft drop propaganda leaflets over the West Country and East Anglia. No less than four He 111s are engaged on this activity in the Bristol area. The leaflets are of Hitler's "last appeal to reason" speech. Some are collected up by enterprising civilians and sold the next day with the proceeds going to charity. Most fall on empty countryside.

On the naval front, the steamer City of Canberra (7,484grt), outbound from Sydney NSW and headed for London with general cargo, is damaged by a mine about 10nm east southeast of Aldeburgh. She is towed to Hollesley Bay and anchored the same day. She is then towed to Tilbury Docks, arriving on 7 August for repairs. The SS Kerry Head (825grt) ias damaged by German bombing four miles east-southeast of the Old Head of Kinsale and the tanker Gothic (2,444grt) is damaged by bombing 12 miles from Flamborough Head.

Meanwhile, in 659 sorties, Fighter Command has destroyed five Luftwaffe aircraft with the loss of one fighter. A PR Spitfire is also lost in an accident. Flown by Lt Cdr Kingdon on a training exercise, his oxygen fails and his aircraft crashes from 20,000 ft near Crewkerne, Somerset.

Bomber Command loses four Blenheims, but may be responsible for destroying German aircraft on the ground at Leeuwarden airfield. The Luftwaffe adds to that with a number of accidents. Perhaps 20 machines in all are lost. The British lose a Hudson in another accident on this day. It collides with power cables near Maltby, Yorks, the bomb load exploding as it crash lands. Amazingly, one crew member survives. Three are killed.

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