06 August, 2010

Day 28 - Battle of Britain

Göring sets 10 August as the start date for Adlerangrif, while the German propaganda effort ramps up the threat of an attack. Each night there is an English-language broadcast from German Radio in Hamburg. The announcer, Irish-born William Joyce (nicknamed, "Lord Haw-Haw" - pictured above, with his wife) starts with the trade-mark phrase, "Germany calling, Germany calling"). On this evening, he tells his audience:
I make no apology for saying again that invasion is certainly coming soon, but what I want to impress upon you is that while you must feverishly take every conceivable precaution, nothing that you or the government can do is really of the slightest use. Don't be deceived by this lull before the storm, because, although there is still the chance of peace, Hitler is aware of the political and economic confusion in England, and is only waiting for the right moment. Then, when his moment comes, he will strike, and strike hard.
There is some sense in what the Germans are doing - but only some. It is a risky, even foolhardy strategy, threatening something that may not happen, a huge bluff that will lose its force if called. However, there are similar voices coming from within England. The Yorkshire Post, this day, offers that intelligence that:
Well-informed quarters in London believe that an air Blitzkrieg will be launched against this country soon. The RAF have the advantages of having practised night raids, of weather over Germany being more favourable than the weather over Britain, and of Germany being well signposted with big rivers, canals and autobahnen.

The RAF is closely watching for signs of a German invasion of this country, it said, with the re-assuring opinion offered that it would be able to give due warning when the invasion is on the way.
Kirke L Simpson, for AP, explains to his readers some of the background, with a long article headed: "Nazis may delay invasion attempt".

"Time and tide which wait for no man, favour a German attempt at invasion as they may not again until next Spring," he writes. "There will be no other high tides in the English Channel and North Sea before then, other moonless nights and other prospective fogs to screen a Nazi onset. Yet the time factor will not be the same. The September equinox is only six weeks away."

Thus, he suggests that the Germans seem to be confronted with a choice of attacking now or waiting until next year. If the week passes without a break in the virtual stalemate that has endured since mid-June it will go far toward convincing the world that whatever his own desire, Hitler's generals have ruled out invasion as too risky until England has been "softened" by blockade.

This view, it also seems, is shared by the US military and naval establishments, with General Pershing, former commander of the American Expeditionary Force, indicating that it was the German air and sea blockade, not invasion, England had most to fear. His view is that a blitzkrieg against England, if attempted during this week of high tides and dark nights, would be beaten off.

However, Simpson notes that several factors would seem to suggest invasion. Hitler himself is back in Berlin from a week of recuperation on his Bavarian mountain top, presumably ready to take the field with his armies if an attack is ordered. After this week the high tide period will occur so close to Winter that launching a major offensive would be unthinkable.

Weather records for the North Sea and English Channel give them an unsavoury reputation before and after the September equinox. Beach landings for troops, guns, tanks and other heavy equipment would be a serious undertaking in rough weather.

And it is beach landings that make the tides important. Much of England's eastern coast shelves away to deep water gradually. At high tide, light draught craft or barges carrying tanks or guns could be run well up on the beach for unloading quickly on firm sands instead of the softer bottom farther out that might prove to be quick-sand.

Hitler recently told the Reichstag that the German invasion of Norway was the most "daring" military adventure in history. Attempting an invasion of England, unless Britons had been brought close to despair by bombing and starvation, would make the Norwegian campaign a minor operation by contrast. The elements argue for it, Simpson concludes. But every rule of military prudence against it.

But, unlikely though the prospect of invasion might be, the British authorities are doing nothing to contradict the suggestion that the Germans are coming. The threat of invasion is a unifying force. Possibly, it is of greater value to the British government than it is to the Germans. For the best of all possible reasons, the British nation is being put through an elaborate charade.

Nevertheless, the Daily Mirror of the morning is running an intriguing headline, purporting to explain "Why Hitler has waited so long". In the general context, this might easily have been another article about the problems of mounting an invasion.  But the newspaper is focused entirely on "mass air raids".  Readers are warned that they should expect not fifty or a hundred machines in an attack, but hundreds.  And the reason Hitler has so far delayed the "knock-out blow" is because the Luftwaffe is not quite ready - crews have needed additional training.

With extraordinary prescience, the paper warns of extensive night raids, and tells its readers: "this must be remembered: neither the Germans nor ourselves have yet solved successfully the problem of intercepting bombers at night. In any raid, a number of planes are sure to get through the defences".

As for what the Mirror is in effect labelling a waiting period, the weather is cloudy and windy. The Luftwaffe is still operating on a small scale, and is still mounting attacks against ports, shipping and airfields. There are raids on RAF Llandow and Swansea is bombed. Ten HE bombs are dropped, all landing in the sea near West Cross. There are no casualties or damage. A site in Midlothian is also bombed.

Off East Anglia three No. 85 Sqn Hurricanes led by Sgt Geoffrey Allard shoot down a Do 17 of III/KG 3. At 17.00hrs, three Spitfires from No. 616 Squadron out of Leconfield airfield intercept a Junkers 88 twenty miles NE of Flamborough Head. Flown respectively by Sqn Ldr M Robinson, Sgt M Ridley and Flt Lt R O Hellyer, all return to base damaged by return fire. The pilots are unhurt and the aircraft is repairable.

Losses on the day are one Luftwaffe aircraft. Fighter Command also loses one from enemy action, but two are written-off in accidents.  This is hidden toll exacted by air warfare. A Spitfire from No. 72 Squadron based at Acklington crash-lands following an uneventful patrol at 12.40hrs. The pilot, Sgt R C J Staples, is unhurt but his aircraft is a write-off. PO H W A Britton is not so lucky. Flying a No. 17 Sqn Hurricane (N2456), at 10:15hrs, he has taken off on a routine air test. The aircraft crashes shortly afterwards in Debden Park, catches fire and is destroyed. Britton is killed. The cause of the crash is unknown.

And, for all that there is killing on an industrial scale, war occasionally taken on a human face. Henry Wilfred Arthur Britton, known as "Billie", was born at Crowborough, Sussex, on 8 July 1921, son of a Major in the Royal Corps of Signals. He is an "Army brat", educated at army schools in Egypt, Aldershot and Catterick before attending state schools in Beford and Edinburgh.

Britton joins the RAF on a short service commission in May 1939. After training at 11 ERFTS, Perth and 2 FTS Brize Norton, he is posted to 12 Group Pool on 23 February 1940 where he converts to Hurricanes. A posting to 17 Squadron at Martlesham Heath follows in March. He is 19 years old when he dies.

His replacement and many others are on their way. The first contingent of airmen from Southern Rhodesia arrives by ship, adding its strength to the increasingly international air force. The men join not only British and Polish pilots but also airmen from Canada, Australia and New Zealand - and volunteers from Ireland and the USA.

Throughout the Empire, towns, islands, colonies and even tribes are also donating money for individual aircraft. Soon, even more airmen will arrive from the colonies and dominions, to man those aircraft. Already Canada is training hundreds of pilots.  They will not arrive in time to make a difference to the period designated as the Battle of Britain, but the Air Ministry and the RAF high command have plenty of imaginative uses for them.  And they need not hurry. Their turn to die will come soon enough.

COMMENT: Battle of Britain thread