25 October, 2010

Day 108 - Battle of Britain

The newspapers had little more to add to the P├ętain affair than when they first reported the meeting with Hitler. The Yorkshire Post, however, rather stiffly informed its readers that Germany might be about to launch a monster propaganda campaign carrying falsification to lengths far exceeding those already attempted designed to show that Britain’s chances of withstanding German might were hopeless.

The Mirror announced a "Better night fighter plane". The paper, with others, was reporting on a BBC commentary the previous evening by Air Marshal Sir Philip Joubert. Amazingly, he was referring to the Defiant, saying that the aircraft, "originally designed as a night fighter and used experimentally for a while by day", had now been restored to its proper role and "with certain developments that we are considering, should be very effective". It wasn't. The aircraft was not suited to radar interception. That Joubert felt the need to talk up the Defiant simply reflected the growing unease at the inability of the RAF to deal with the night bomber, and its desperation to come up with a solution.

The claim was, to say the very least, disingenuous, both as to its original role and as to its future effectiveness. The aircraft was not suited to carrying interception radar and, although the Mk II model was fitted with the AI Mk IV, it was never really successful as a night interceptor. With the twin-engined Bristol Beaufighter already on the stocks, the aircraft was withdrawn from combat duties in 1942 and used only for target towing and sundry other non-combat tasks.

But even in the daytime, the RAF was finding it hard to keep the Luftwaffe at bay. Three people were killed when a German fighter-bomber scored a direct hit on trams in Blackfriars Road, London, during a daylight raid. The trams worst hit were in the middle of a group of five, drawn up near traffic lights. The dead included a driver, a conductor and a woman passenger. A number of women ripped up their clothing to provide temporary bandages for the injured, of which four had been taken to hospital. Many others were cut by flying glass. Adjoining buildings were badly damaged.

Come the night, though, an even greater horror visited the Druid Street railway arch shelter in Bermondsey. The area under the arch was used as a social club and billiards hall during the day but, at night, it was transformed into a sanctuary from the bombing. The ominous sound of the sirens were the cue for local people to congregate as quickly as possible in a bid for safety. That night, it took a direct hit. Many were killed instantly and many died later of their injuries. The final death toll was 77. Censorship kept the details from the wider public.

And for for the first time, Italian aircraft were committed to an operation over British soil. Thirteen aircraft took part in a raid against Harwich.

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