02 October, 2010

Day 85 - Battle of Britain

With the RAF having made daylight conditions dangerous for medium bombers, a major conversion programme was under way to equip large numbers of Me 109s as fighter bombers – or Jabos. Already they were being sent over in large numbers, usually at high altitude, where only the Spitfires could reach them. The tactic was not without cost. This day, the Luftwaffe lost sixteen aircraft, against the RAF's three Spitfires – two of those lost in a ground collision.

Churchill was finally confronting the human consequences of the shelter policy. He had been given a copy of the New Statesman article by Ritchie Calder, which had details about the conditions in the notorious "Tilbury shelter". This was the area beneath the massive Fenchurch–Tilbury railway goods terminal just off the Commercial Road, part of which had been organized by the local authority as a shelter for 3,000 people. Other parts were used for the storage of margarine.

Communist councillors had led residents to break into this area, bringing the occupation on some nights up to as many as 14–16,000 people. There was no sanitation. Poorer families were forced to occupy the more unpleasant areas where the floors were covered by excrement and discarded margarine. One observer reported: "The place was a hell hole. It was an outrage that people had to live in these conditions".

Now, at the War Cabinet, Churchill urged strong action – as a general rule, he was keen on "strong action" – to prevent large numbers of people crowding into the building until it had been made safe. He wanted the man in charge fired. Admiral Evans, the Regional Commissioner, had been given the fullest powers to deal with this matter, taking over from local authority officials.

In the wider world, Drew Middleton of the AP was speculating about Sealion. The "zero hour for [the] invasion of Britain this year has passed", he wrote, citing "neutral military observers and unofficial British sources". There were "signs that the battle of Britain will be fought in Africa", where Germany would reinforce the Italians. They would also keep troops in the Channel ports, but only to tie up the British North Sea fleet.

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