06 October, 2010

Day 89 - Battle of Britain

Speculation is rife on what actually went on at Brenner, while German shortwave broadcasts are stoking up the invasion threat. They are claiming that "maybe" the waves of German bombers now flying towards England will be followed "soon" by hundreds of thousands of troops standing by. The propaganda machine thus is obeying the Hitler directive to exploit the continued presence of troops to keep up pressure on the British.

The weather said otherwise. Overnight, poor weather had prevented all but a handful of sorties, with London visited by a mere seven bombers - the lightest attack since the offensive had begun on 7 September.

A dismal day with continuous rain over almost the entire country then prevents all but a few Luftwaffe flights. One catches a Polish Hurricane from No. 303 Sqn between hangers at RAF Middle Wallop, blowing it and its pilot to smithereens. Four land mines were dropped at Uxbridge, one close to 11 Group HQ, threatening the entire command operation (although the operations room was deeply buried in a bunker). Sub-Lt Horace Taylor defused that mine, earning him a well-deserved George Cross.

On the British side, every effort is being made to keep up with the Germans in the propaganda war. This effort focuses mainly on the activities of Bomber Command which, despite the foul weather, manages to despatch 21 Blenheims to attack targets in Germany. The thick clouds - on which the aircraft rely for cover - causes ten sorties to be abandoned. The rest attack alternative targets - mainly shipping and barges in the Channel ports. One crew attacks Deipholtz aerodrome and reports bomb bursts on the tarmac in front of the hanger.

Not much could be expected in what were atrocious conditions, when simply to fly in such primitive machines is a significant achievement. But the activity is translated a communiqué declaring: "British bombers attacked Nazi coastal objectives and shipping from Harlingen in the Netherlands to Boulogne in France in a series of raids which began soon after dawn and lasted until late afternoon".

This is not exactly a lie, but it gives the impression of purposeful activity and suggests results far beyond those achieved. Interestingly, the same language is used in the resumé which goes to the War Cabinet, which means the false impression goes right to the top.

On the day, three Hurricanes and a Spitfire are lost. Seven Luftwaffe bombers are lost and several others very badly damaged. A Hudson is also lost attacking two armed merchant ships off the Dutch coast. The crew is posted as missing. Even at this stage of the war, German flak is lethal.

Come the night, the sirens sound with weary predictability. And then nothing happens.  No aircraft, no bombs, no gunfire. Where thousands guns failed, where the pitiful technology of the RAF provides no deterrent, the wild weather over the Channel and northern France has prevailed.  The bombers have stayed at home.  Cautiously, people emerge from their shelters and soon, the pubs and restaurants are doing a roaring trade.  Many sleep in their own beds this night, the first time for over a month.

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