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About the Battle of Britain

Battle of Britain is the name given to the strategic effort by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War to gain air superiority over Fighter Command. The name derives from an 18 June 1940 speech in the House of Commons by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, "The Battle of France is over. I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin..."
The Battle can be roughly divided into four phases:

Channel battles

A pair of 264 Squadron Defiants. (PS-V was shot down on 28 August 1940 over Kent by Bf 109s.)
A pair of 264 SquadronDefiants. (PS-V was shot down on 28 August 1940 over KentBf 109s.) by
The Kanalkampf comprised a series of running fights over convoys in the English Channel and occasional attacks on the convoys by Stuka dive-bombers. It was launched partly because Kesselring and Sperrle were not sure about what else to do, and partly because it gave German aircrews some training and a chance to probe the British defenders. In general, these battles off the coast tended to favour the Germans, whose bomber escorts massively outnumbered the convoy patrols. The need for constant patrols over the convoys put a severe strain on RAF pilots and machines, wasting fuel, engine hours and exhausting the pilots, but eventually the number of ship sinkings became so great the British Admiralty cancelled all further convoys through the Channel. However, these early combat encounters provided both sides with experience. They also gave the first indications some of the aircraft, such as the Defiant and Bf 110, were not up to the intense dog-fighting that would characterise the battle.

Main assault

The main attack upon the RAF's defences was code-named Adlerangriff ("Eagle Attack").
Weather, which proved an important feature of the campaign, delayed Adlertag, ("Eagle Day") until 13 August 1940. On 12 August, the first attempt was made to blind the Dowding system when aircraft from the specialist fighter-bomber unit, Erprobungsgruppe 210 attacked four radar stations. Three were briefly taken off the air but were back working within six hours. The raids appeared to show British radars were difficult to knock out for any length of time. The failure to mount follow-up attacks allowed the RAF to get the stations back on the air, and Luftwaffe neglected strikes on the supporting infrastructure, such as phone lines or power stations, which could have rendered the radars useless, even if the towers themselves (which were very difficult to destroy) remained intact.[37]
Adlertag opened with a series of attacks on coastal airfields, used as forward landing grounds for the RAF fighters. As the week drew on, the airfield attacks moved further inland, and repeated raids were made on the radar chain. 15 August was "The Greatest Day" when the Luftwaffe mounted the largest number of sorties of the campaign. Luftflotte 5 attacked the north of England. Believing Fighter Command strength to be concentrated in the south, raiding forces from Denmark and Norway ran into unexpectedly strong resistance. Inadequately escorted by Bf 110s, bombers were shot down in large numbers. As a result of the casualties, Luftflotte 5 did not appear in strength again in the campaign.
18 August, which had the greatest number of casualties to both sides, has been dubbed "The Hardest Day". Following the grinding battles of 18 August, exhaustion and the weather reduced operations for most of a week, allowing the Luftwaffe to review their performance. "The Hardest Day" had sounded the end for the Ju 87 in the campaign. This veteran of blitzkrieg was too vulnerable to fighters to operate over Britain, and to preserve the Stuka force, Göring withdrew them from the fighting. This removed the main Luftwaffe precision-bombing weapon and shifted the burden of pinpoint attacks on the already-stretched Erpro 210. Also, the Bf 110 had proven too clumsy for dog-fighting with single-engined fighters, and its participation was scaled back. It would only be used when range required it or when sufficient single-engined escort could not be provided for the bombers.
Göring made yet another fateful decision: to order more bomber escorts at the expense of free-hunting sweeps. To achieve this, the weight of the attack now fell on Luftflotte 2, and the bulk of the Bf 109s in Luftflotte 3 were transferred to Kesselring's command, reinforcing the fighter bases in the Pas de Calais. Stripped of its fighters, Luftflotte 3 would concentrate on the night bombing campaign. Göring, expressing disappointment with the fighter performance thus far in the campaign, also made a large change in the command structure of the fighter units, replacing many Geschwaderkommodoren with younger, more aggressive pilots like Adolf Galland and Werner Mölders.[45]
Finally, Göring stopped the attacks on the radar chain. These were seen as unsuccessful, and neither the Reichsmarschall nor his subordinates realised how vital the Chain Home stations were to the defence. It was known radar provided some early warning of raids, but the belief among German fighter pilots was anything bringing up the "Tommies" to fight was to be encouraged.

Luftwaffe targets RAF airfields

On 19 August 1940, Göring ordered attacks concentrating on aircraft production, then on 23 August 1940 his directive added a focus on RAF airfields, as well as day and night attacks aimed at weakening fighter forces across the United Kingdom. That evening saw the start of a sustained campaign of bombing, starting with a raid on tyre production at Birmingham. Raids on airfields continued through 24 August, and a major attack hit Portsmouth. That night, several areas of London were bombed, with the East End set ablaze and one release hitting central London. These have been attributed to a group of Heinkel He 111s, unable to find their target, releasing their bombs and returning home, unaware they were dropping them on the city, but this account has been contested.[46] In retaliation, the RAF bombed Berlin on the night of 25 August26 August, and continued bombing raids on Berlin. These hurt Göring's pride, because he had previously claimed the British would never be allowed to bomb the city, and enraged Hitler.[47]
From 24 August onwards, the battle was essentially a fight between Kesselring's Luftflotte 2 and Park's 11 Group. The Luftwaffe concentrated all their strength on knocking out Fighter Command and made repeated attacks on the airfields. Of the 33 heavy attacks in the following two weeks, 24 were against airfields. The key sector stations were hit repeatedly: Biggin Hill and Hornchurch four times each; Debden and North Weald twice each. Croydon, Gravesend, Rochford, Hawkinge and Manston were also attacked in strength. At least seven attempts were made against Eastchurch, which was not a Fighter Command aerodrome but was believed to be by the Germans. At times these raids knocked out the sector stations, threatening the integrity of the Dowding system. Emergency measures had to be taken to keep the sectors operating.
The RAF was taking many casualties in the air. Aircraft production could replace aircraft, but replacement pilots were barely keeping pace with losses, and novice fliers were being shot down at an alarming rate. To offset losses, some 58 Fleet Air Arm fighter pilot volunteers were seconded to RAF squadrons, and a similar number of former (single-engine) Fairey Battle pilots were utilized. Most replacements from Operational Training Units (OTUs) had as little as nine hours flying time and no gunnery or air-to-air combat training. At this point the multinational nature of Fighter Command came to the fore. Many squadrons and individual personnel from the air forces of the Dominions were already attached to the RAF — Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, Rhodesians and South Africans — they were bolstered by the arrival of fresh Czechoslovak and Polish squadrons. These squadrons had been held back by Dowding, who mistakenly thought non-English speaking aircrew would have trouble working within his control system. In addition there were other nationals, including Free French, Belgian and even a Jewish pilot from the British mandate of Palestine.
Polish fliers proved especially effective — the pre-war Polish Air Force had lengthy and extensive training, and high standards; with Poland conquered and under German occupation, the Polish pilots of 303 Squadron were strongly motivated. Josef František, a Czech regular airman who had flown from the occupation of his own country and joined the Polish and then French air forces before arriving in Britain, proved effective but undisciplined and flew as a guest of 303 Squadron chasing Germans. He shot down 17, now accepted as the highest "RAF score".
The RAF had the advantage of fighting over home territory. Pilots who bailed out of their downed aircraft could be back at their airfields within hours. For Luftwaffe aircrews, a bail out over England meant capture, while parachuting into the English Channel often meant drowning or death from exposure. Morale began to suffer, and Kanalkrankheit ("Channel sickness") — a form of combat fatigue — began to appear among the German pilots. Their replacement problem was even worse than the British. Though the Luftwaffe maintained its numerical superiority, the slow appearance of replacement aircraft and pilots put increasing strain on the resources of the remaining attackers.
Formerly, the conventional wisdom was, the Luftwaffe was winning even so. Recent research shows this isn't true. Throughout the battle, the Germans "greatly underestimated the size of the RAF and the scale of British aircraft production. Across the Channel, the Air Intelligence division of the Air Ministry consistently overestimated the size of the German air enemy and the productive capacity of the German aviation industry. As the battle was fought, both sides exaggerated the losses inflicted on the other by an equally large margin. However, the intelligence picture formed before the battle encouraged the German Air Force to believe that such losses pushed Fighter Command to the very edge of defeat, while the exaggerated picture of German air strength persuaded the RAF that the threat it faced was larger and more dangerous than was actually the case."[nThis led the British to the conclusion another fortnight of attacks on airfields might force Fighter Command to withdraw their squadrons from the south of England. The German misconception, on the other hand, "encouraged first complacency, then strategic misjudgement. The shift of targets from air bases to industry and communications was taken because it was assumed that Fighter Command was virtually eliminated." Yet this analysis ignores the fact it was pilots, not aircraft, Fighter Command continued to be desperately short of, as it had been from the start of the Battle. Incompletely-trained recruits, and instructors cannibalized from the training program, did not augur well for the ability to sustain the defense.
Due to the failure of the Luftwaffe to establish air supremacy, a conference assembled on 14 September at Hitler's headquarters. Hitler concluded that air superiority had not yet been established and "promised to review the situation on 17 September for possible landings on 27 September or 8 October. Three days later, when the evidence was clear that the German Air Force had greatly exaggerated the extent of their successes against the RAF, Hitler postponed Sealion indefinitely." However, at the meeting on 14 September, the leadership of the Luftwaffe had persuaded him to give them a last chance to cow the RAF. "The air force chief of staff, General Hans Jeschonnek ... asked Hitler to allow him to attack residential areas to create 'mass panic'. Hitler refused, perhaps unaware of just how much damage had already been done to civilian targets. 'Mass panic' was to be used only as a last resort. Hitler reserved for himself the right to unleash the terror weapon. The political will was to be broken by the collapse of the material infrastructure, the weapons industry, and stocks of fuel and food. On 16 September Goering ordered the air fleets to begin the new phase of the battle. Like the campaign in Kosovo in the spring of 1999, air power was expected to deliver the political solution by undermining military capability and the conditions of daily existence."

Raids on British cities

Main article: The Blitz
Calais, September 1940. Göring giving a speech to pilots about the change in tactics to bomb the towns instead of the airfields.
Calais, September 1940. Göring giving a speech to pilots about the change in tactics to bomb the towns instead of the airfields.
The Luftwaffe offensive against Britain had included numerous raids on cities since August, but Hitler had issued a directive London was not to be bombed save on his sole instruction. However, on the night of 23 August, bombs were accidentally dropped on Harrow on the outskirts of London as well as raids on Aberdeen, Bristol and South Wales. The focus on attacking airfields had also been accompanied by a sustained bombing campaign which begun on 24 August with the largest raid so far killing 100 in Portsmouth, and that evening the first night raid on London as described above. Continuing RAF raids on Berlin in retaliation led to Hitler withdrawing his directive, and on 3 September Göring planned to bomb London daily, with Kesselring's enthusiastic support, having received reports the RAF was down to under 100 fighters and their airfields in the area were out of action. Hitler issued a directive on 5 September to attack cities including London.
Bombing of London.
Bombing of London.
On 7 September 1940 a massive series of raids involving nearly four hundred bombers and more than six hundred fighters targeted docks in the East End of London, day and night. Though suffering from shortages, the RAF anticipated attacks on airfields and 11 Group rose to meet them, in greater numbers than the Luftwaffe expected. The first official deployment of 12 Group's Big Wing took twenty minutes to gain formation, missing its intended target, but encountering another formation of bombers while still climbing. They returned, apologetic about their limited success, and blamed the delay on being requested too late. Next morning, Keith Park flew his Hurricane over the city: "It was burning all down the river. It was a horrid sight. But I looked down and said 'Thank God for that', because I knew that the Nazis had switched their attack from the fighter stations thinking that they were knocked out. They weren't, but they were pretty groggy". Luftwaffe raids across Britain continued, with large attacks on London targeting the docks or bombing indiscriminately. Fighter Command had been at its lowest ebb, short of men and machines, and the break from airfield attacks allowed them to recover. 11 Group had considerable success in breaking up daytime raids. 12 Group repeatedly disobeyed orders and failed to meet requests to protect 11 Group airfields, but their experiments with increasingly large Big Wings had some successes. The Luftwaffe began to abandon their morning raids, with attacks on London starting late in the afternoon for 57 consecutive nights of attacks.
Members of the London Auxiliary Firefighting Service.
Members of the London Auxiliary Firefighting Service.
The most damaging aspect to the Luftwaffe of the change in targets (to London) was the increase in range. The Bf 109 escorts had a limited fuel capacity, and by the time they arrived over the city, had only 10 minutes of flying time before they had to turn for home. This left many raids undefended by fighter escorts. On 11 September, Hitler postponed Operation Sealion until 24 September. RAF Bomber Command contributed to the problems facing the German naval forces by sinking eighty barges in the Port of Ostend alone.
On 15 September, two massive waves of German attacks were decisively repulsed by the RAF, with every single aircraft of the 11 Group being used on that day. The total casualties on this critical day were 60 German aircraft shot down versus only 26 RAF. The German defeat caused Hitler to order, two days later, the postponement of preparations for the invasion of Britain. Henceforth, in the face of mounting losses in men, aircraft and the lack of adequate replacements, the Luftwaffe switched from daylight to night-time bombing.
On 13 October, Hitler again postponed the invasion until the spring of 1941; however, the invasion never happened, and October is regarded as the month in which regular bombing of Britain ended. It was not until Hitler's Directive 21 was ordered on 18 December 1940, that the threat of invasion finally dissipated.


The Battle of Britain marked the first defeat of Hitler's military forces, with air superiority seen as the key to victory. Pre-war theories led to exaggerated fears of strategic bombing, and British public opinion was invigorated by having come through the ordeal. To Hitler it did not seem a serious setback, as Britain was still not in a position to cause real damage to his plans, and the last minute invasion plan had been an unimportant addition to German strategy. However, for the British, Fighter Command had achieved a great victory in successfully carrying out Sir Thomas Inskip's 1937 air policy of preventing the Germans from knocking Britain out of the war. (Fighter Command was so successful, the conclusion to Churchill's famous 'Battle of Britain' speech has come to refer solely to them: "...if the British Empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'")
The Battle also signalled a significant shift in U.S. opinion. During the battle, many people from the U.S. accepted the view promoted by Joseph Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador in London, and believed the UK could not survive. However, Roosevelt wanted a second opinion, and sent "Wild Bill" Donovan on a brief visit to Britain, who became convinced Britain would survive and should be supported in every possible way.
Both sides in the battle made exaggerated claims of numbers of enemy aircraft shot down. In general, claims were two to three times the actual numbers, because of the confusion of fighting in dynamic three-dimensional air battles. Postwar analysis of records has shown between July and September, the RAF claimed over 2,698 kills for 1,023 fighter aircraft lost to all causes, where 147 Polish pilots claimed 201 out of that number, while the Luftwaffe fighters claimed 3,198 RAF aircraft downed for losses of 1,887, of which 873 were fighters. To the RAF figure should be added an additional 376 Bomber Command and 148 Coastal Command aircraft conducting bombing, mining, and reconnaissance operations in defence of the country.
Some modern military historians have suggested the battle was unwinnable for the Luftwaffe because their numerical majority was not sufficient to achieve air superiority. Dowding's and Park's strategy of choosing when to engage the enemy whilst maintaining a coherent force was vindicated. Three historians, who teach at Joint Services Command and Staff College, have suggested the existence of the Royal Navy was enough of a deterrent to the Germans; even had the Luftwaffe won, the Germans had limited means with which to combat the Royal Navy, certain to have intervened to prevent a landing. Some veterans of the battle point out the Royal Navy would have been vulnerable to air attack by the Luftwaffe if Germany had achieved air superiority, quoting the fate of Prince of Wales and Repulse in December 1941, overwhelmed only by air power. They neglect to mention Germany at that time had no armour piercing bomb capable of penetrating the armor of a British battleship.
Though the claims about the Royal Navy's ability to repulse an invasion may be contested, there is a consensus among historians that the Luftwaffe simply could not crush the RAF, without which a successful invasion of Britain was impossible. "Irrespective of whether Hitler was really set on this course, he simply lacked the resources to establish the air superiority that was the sine qua non of a successful crossing of the English Channel. A third of the initial strength of the German air force, the Luftwaffe, had been lost in the western campaign in the spring. The Germans lacked the trained pilots, the effective fighter planes, and the heavy bombers that would have been needed."
The theories of strategic bombing, which hinged on the collapse of public morale, were undone by British defiance in the face of the day and night blitzes. The switch to terror bombing allowed the RAF to recuperate and to defend against the attacks. Even if the attacks on the 11 Group airfields had continued, the British could have withdrawn to the Midlands, out of the range of German fighters, and continued the battle from there. Postwar records show British aircraft were being replaced faster than those of the Germans; the RAF maintained its strength even as the Luftwaffe's declined. In losses of aircraft and experienced aircrew, the battle was a blow from which the Luftwaffe never fully recovered.
The Germans launched some spectacular attacks against important British industries, but they could not destroy the British industrial potential, and made little systematic effort to do so. Hindsight does not disguise the fact the threat to Fighter Command was very real and for the participants, it seemed as if there was a narrow margin between victory and defeat. The victory was as much psychological as physical.
The British triumph in the Battle of Britain was not without heavy cost. Total British civilian losses from July to December 1940 were 23,002 dead and 32,138 wounded, with one of the largest single raids occurring on 19 December 1940, in which almost 3,000 civilians died.
Winston Churchill summed up the effect of the battle and the contribution of Fighter Command with the words, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few". However, the brilliant leadership of Dowding and Keith Park in successfully proving their theories of air defence had created enemies amongst RAF senior commanders, and in a shabby episode, both were sacked from their posts in the immediate aftermath of the battle. Pilots who fought in the Battle have been known as The Few ever since. 15 September is celebrated in the United Kingdom as "Battle of Britain Day", marking the battle.
The end of the battle allowed the UK to rebuild its military forces and establish itself as an Allied stronghold. Britain later served as a base from which the Liberation of Western Europe was launched.
An Alternative View of the Battle
Source: History Today Magazine
Challenging the view that the RAF held off the German invaders in 1940, the monthly magazine History Today recently concluded that it was the might of the Royal Navy that stood between Britain and Nazi occupation.
The view is backed by three leading academics who are senior military historians at the Joint Service Command Staff College teaching the future admirals, generals and air marshals.They contend that the sheer numbers of destroyers and battleships in the Channel would have obliterated any invasion fleet even if the RAF had lost the Battle of Britain.
The idea that a "handful of heroes saved these islands from invasion" was nothing more than a "perpetuation of a glorious myth," the article suggests.
"Many still prefer to believe that in the course of that summer a few hundred outnumbered young men so outfought a superior enemy as solely to prevent a certain invasion of Britain. Almost none of which is true," reports Brian James, the author.
Dr Andrew Gordon, the head of maritime history at the staff college, said it was "hogwash" to suggest that Germany failed to invade in 1940 "because of what was done by the phenomenally brave and skilled young men of Fighter Command".
"The Germans stayed away because while the Royal Navy existed they had not a hope in hell of capturing these islands. The Navy had ships in sufficient numbers to have overwhelmed any invasion fleet - destroyers' speed alone would have swamped the barges by their wash."
Even if the RAF had been defeated the fleet would still have been able to defeat any invasion because fast ships at sea could easily manoeuvre and "were pretty safe from air attack". While admitting it was an "extremely sensitive subject", Dr Christina Goulter, the air warfare historian, supported the argument. "While it would be wrong to deny the contribution of Fighter Command, I agree largely that it was the Navy that held the Germans from invading," she said.
"As the German general Jodl put it, so long as the British Navy existed, an invasion would be to send 'my troops into a mincing machine'." Any challenge to the long-held theory that the 2,600 pilots of Fighter Command defeated the might of Germany would be subject to "more than a modicum of hostility", she added.
Although six destroyers were lost during the evacuation of Dunkirk in May 1940 this was due to them being stationary as they picked up troops.
Tackling capital ships would have been an even greater task because at the time the Luftwaffe, unlike the Japanese during the destruction of the fleet at Singapore, did not have armour-piercing bombs, the article says. It has been argued that German minefields strung across the Dover Straits would have prevented the Home Fleet, based at Scapa Flow, from destroying slow troop barges.
But Dr Gordon disputed this saying that Britain had 52 minesweepers and 16 minesweeping trawlers arrayed against four German minelayers. The disparity between the navies was huge with Britain having 36 destroyers close by and a similar number two days away. The Navy also had five capital ships on hand, whereas the Kriegsmarine had lost or had damaged their battleships.
"Anyway, in an emergency, the Royal Navy steams straight through minefields as they did when pursuing the Scharnhorst," Dr Gordon said. "They have a drill, following line astern. 'Each ship can sweep one mine' is the rather grim joke."
Can you imagine the RN's targets? An invasion fleet of Rhine barges, moving at about two knots over the water, with a freeboard of a few feet. . . an absolute field day for our navy. So that was the nightmare for the German navy. They knew it just couldn't happen."
Prof Gary Sheffield, the JSCSC's leading land warfare historian, said while some Germans might have got ashore it would have been near impossible for them to be re-supplied with the Navy so close by.
The article also argues that while the RAF had 644 fighters to the Luftwaffe's 725 at the beginning of the battle by October 1940 Britain was far out-producing the enemy.
It also said that after the defeat in France in early 1940 it was vital for Britain to have a victory to reassure the public it was winning the war and the RAF fighter pilots were an obvious choice. "In 1940, the total acceptance of the story's simple broad-brush strokes was very necessary," the historian Richard Overy said.
Dr Gordon added: "The RAF's was a substitute victory - a substitute for the certain victory over Sealion, had the Germans been mad enough to attempt invasion."

Specific units in the Battle of Britain

All units were worthy of mention for their part in the Battle, but some merit special attention.

303 Polish Squadron
No. 303 Squadron claimed the greatest number of aircraft destroyed of the 66 Allied fighter squadrons engaged in the Battle of Britain, even though it joined the fray two months after the battle had begun.

See a 49 minute video about 303 Squadron above...

On 24 August 1940 the squadron, equipped with Hawker Hurricanes, was scrambled for the first time, although it did not come into contact with any enemy aircraft.[4] The squadron later scored its first victory while still officially non-operational on 30 August, against a German Messerschmitt Bf 110 of 4./ZG 76 (initially incorrectly recorded as a Dornier Do 17) shot down by F/O Ludwik Paszkiewicz during a training flight. The wreck was excavated in 1982.[5] After Kellet's personal recommendation, the squadron was declared operational next day by No. 11 Group RAF.
On 31 August, the squadron was scrambled in the late afternoon on its first operational sortie. In a dogfight over Kent, 'A ' Flight claimed four confirmed and two probable victories over Messerschmitt Bf 109s, possibly of LG 2. Claimants were Kellet, F/O. Henneberg, P/O Feric and Sgt. Karubin.

During 2 September, the squadron was scrambled three times. On the last scramble Feric shot down a Bf 109 and then made a forced landing near Dover, while former Czechoslovak Air Force pilot Sgt. Josef František claimed a Bf 110. The following day over Dover Frantisek claimed his second victory; with a total of 17 victories he was the top-scoring Allied fighter pilot during the Battle of Britain. On 5 September, nine No. 303 Hurricanes intercepted a German bombing formation escorted by Bf 109s, with the Poles claiming five Bf 109s and three Junkers Ju 88s for one loss: P/O Lapkowski bailing out wounded.
On 6 September nine Hurricanes were scrambled towards incoming bomber formations. However during the climb they were bounced by Bf 109s of III./JG 27. S/L Kellet and F/L Forbes both force-landed slightly wounded, Sgt. Karubin bailed out wounded, S/L Krasnodebski was severely burned while three other Hurricanes were damaged.[6] The Squadron claimed five Bf 109s (of JG 27 and JG 52), a Do 17 and a Heinkel He 111. F/O Witold Urbanowicz was appointed as acting Squadron Commander.

On 7 September 1940, the German air offensive switched to the London docks. No. 303 Squadron was successfully vectored towards the incoming bomber streams. The squadron claimed 12 Do 17s and two Bf 109s, with P/O Zumbach, P/O Feric, Sgt. Szaposznikow and Sgt. Wojtowicz all scoring double victories. P/O. Daszewski was shot down and seriously wounded, while F/O Pisarek bailed out. His Hurricane crashed in a back garden of a house in Loughton, killing a family of three in their shelter.[7] Two other aircraft were damaged.

On 9 September, 12 303 Hurricanes were scrambled and two claims made over Bf 109s by Zumbach (both of JG 53) and one by Frantisek -a Bf 109 of 7./JG 27 - who also claimed a 'probable' He 111 of KG 53, while a Bf 110 was shot down by F/L Kent. Sgt. Wunsche had to bail out with burns over Beachy Head, and Sgt. Frantisek crash-landed.
At 16:00 hours on 11 September the Squadron attacked a bomber formation south of London. F/O Cebrzynski was fatally wounded by return fire, while Sgt. Wojtowicz shot down two Messerschmitt Bf 110s before being shot down and killed. The pilots claimed two Bf 110s, one Bf 109, three Do 17s and four He 111s.

The Squadron was heavily involved in the massed dogfights over London on 15 September 1940, with nine Hurricanes led by F/L Kent intercepting a German raid in mid morning. Nine kills were claimed ; six Bf 109s, one Bf 110 and two Do 17s. In the afternoon a flight formation led by S/L Kellet claimed four victories, while the five-strong 'B' Flight led by Urbanowicz claimed two Do 17s, for two Polish pilots shot down (Sgt. Brzezowski killed, Sgt. Andruszkow baled out while P/O Lokuciewski was wounded in the leg, returning to base safely.) During the day 303 Squadron claimed 15 victories.

303 squadron pilots. L-R: Sgt. Stasik, P/O Socha, P/O Kolecki, F/O Lipiński, F/O Horbaczewski, F/O Schmidt, F/Sgt Giermar (on the wing), Flt Lt Zumbach, Sqn Ldr Kołaczewski, Flt Lt Żak, F/Sgt Popek, F/O Bieńkowski, F/O Kłosin, F/O Kolubiński, F/Sgt Karczmarz, F/Sgt Sochacki, F/Sgt Wojciechowski and on the propeller F/O Głowacki (May 1942, RAF Northolt).
In the afternoon of 26 September 303 Squadron was scrambled towards a large enemy raid over Hampshire, with the Poles claiming 13 victories for three Hurricanes damaged (actual Luftwaffe losses were nine in total).[8]
There was further intense fighting on 27 September with 11 Hurricanes engaged by massed escorts to a KG 77 30-bomber formation. The squadron claimed 15 victories: six Bf 109s, two Bf 110s of LG 1, four "He 111s" (probably Ju 88s) and three Ju 88s for F/O Paszkiewicz and Sgt. Andruszkow killed. F/O Zak was wounded and baled out over Horsham and four Hurricanes were lost in total. Just six aircraft were serviceable during the afternoon, engaging a raid of 15 Ju 88s. Two bombers were brought down before the escort intervened, and a Bf 109 was also claimed. Witold Urbanowicz claimed four German aircraft during the day.

Urbanowicz once again claimed four victories on 30 September and a Do 17 was brought down by P/O. Radomski, who baled out, as did Sgt. Belc, while Sgt. Karubin claimed a Bf 109. On 5 October the Polish pilots claimed five Bf 110s and four Bf 109s, though P/O. Januszewicz was killed. (Eprobungsgruppe 210 lost two Bf 110s Jabos and JG 3 and JG 53 a Bf 109 each). A fight over the Thames Estuary on 7 October saw claims for three Bf 109s of LG 2.
On 11 October the squadron was transferred for a rest to Leconfield in No. 12 Group, ending its participation in the Battle of Britain.

303's success in combat can be attributed to several factors; the years of extensive and rigorous pre-war training many of the long-serving Polish veterans had received in their homeland, far more than many of their younger and inexperienced RAF comrades then being thrown into the battle. In its first seven days of combat, the squadron claimed nearly 40 enemy aircraft. Withdrawn from battle for a rest on 11 October, the squadron had claimed 126 kills in six weeks. Relative to aircraft downed, losses were relatively small with 18 Hurricanes lost, seven pilots killed and five badly wounded.[9]

During the Battle of Britain, even though the Hurricanes flown by the Polish pilots were considered inferior to the Messerschmitt Bf 109, they were far superior to the outdated Polish fighter aircraft that defended the country's skies during the German invasion in September 1939.
Thus No. 303 Squadron, manned by experienced veterans, equipped with a fighter on a technical par with most of its opponents, and superbly backed by the well established RAF command, communication and logistics infrastructure, demonstrated its outstanding ability during the Battle.
On one occasion 303's Sergeant Stanislaw Karubin resorted to extreme tactics to bring down a German fighter. Following a prolonged air battle, Karubin was chasing a German fighter at treetop level. As he closed in on the tail of the German fighter, Karubin realized that his Hurricane had run out of ammunition. Rather than turning back to base, he closed the distance and climbed right above the German fighter. The German pilot was so shocked to see the underside of the Hurricane within arm's reach of his cockpit that he instinctively reduced his altitude to avoid a collision and crashed into the ground.[10]

Although the number of Battle of Britain claims was overestimated (as with virtually all fighter units), No. 303 Squadron was one of the top fighter units in the battle and the best Hurricane-equipped one. According to historian John Alcorn, 44 victories are positively verified, making 303 Squadron the fourth highest scoring squadron of the battle, after Squadron Nos. 603 AuxAF (57.8 verified kills), 609 AuxAF (48 verified kills) and 41 (45.33 verified kills), which all flew Spitfires.[5] It was also had the highest kill-to-loss ratio; of 2.8:1. However, J. Alcorn was not able to attribute 30 aircraft shot down to any particular unit, and according to Jerzy Cynk and other Polish historians, the actual number of victories for 303 Squadron was about 55–60.[5] According to Polish historian Jacek Kutzner the verified number of kills of 303 Squadron is around 58.8, which would still place it above all other squadrons regarding verified kills. This is presented by Kutzner's chart, which shows Polish confirmed kills (left column), confirmed kills of all Allied squadrons, including Polish (central column) and real German losses on each day when 303 Squadron was involved in air combats (right column). /Chart [1]

Erprobungsgruppe 210 (Erpr.Gr.210)

Erprobungsgruppe 210 was formed on July 1, 1940 at Koln-Ostheim under the command of Hauptmann Walter Rubensdörffer, a Swiss true believer in Nazism, who had migrated to Germany following Hitler’s rise to power and joined the Luftwaffe, where he gained a reputation as a ground-attack specialist during the Spanish Civil War, where he led 3./J 88 which used the He-51B in the development of schlactflieger tactics.

     The unit was given the task of operational test of the Bf-109E and Bf-110C as fighter-bombers, and the development of suitable tactics.  The legend of Erpr.Gr.210 is that the aircrews assigned were all “specialists,” which is not true. 1.Staffel, which was to be equipped with the new Bf-110C-4/B, a version with a fuselage mounted bomb rack capable of carrying two SC 500 bombs on a paired ETC 250 rack under the fuselage,  was formed from I./ZG1. 2.Staffel, also to be equipped with the Bf-110C-4/B, was formed from 3./StG. 77, and 3.Staffel, which was equipped with the Bf-109E-4B capable carrying one SC 250 on a centerline rack, was formed from 4./JG 186. Some crews were assigned straight in from training, including Leutnant Erich Beudel and his Bordfunker, Obergefreiter Heinrich Diemer, and Uffz. Werner Neumann and his Bordfunker, Obergefreiter Karl Stoff.


At their commissioning, 1.Staffel was equipped with the Bf 11OC-6, only 12 of which were ever built, which carried a 30 mm. MG 101 in place of the standard two 20 mm cannon. 2.Staffel received their first Bf-110C-4/B aircraft a week later, while 3.Staffel operated the Bf-109E-4Bs.

     The heavy commitment of the unit during the Battle of Britain would take its toll: four commanding officers would be lost in action between August 15th and October 5th 1940.  An indication of the level of combat experienced by Erpr.Gr.210 is seen in the fact that four awards were made of the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross, the most for any single Gruppe in the Battle.

     Erpr.Gr.210 moved to St. Omer-Arques for missions over the English Channel on July 10, 1940, and flew its first mission of the Battle of Britain on July 13, 1940, against two convoys near the mouth of the Thames. No RAF fighters appeared, and hits were claimed on a total of 20,000 tons of shipping, with all aircraft returning to France. In the following days the unit continued attacking convoys, and suffered their first loss on July 24, when the Bf-110C-4/B of Uffz. Paul Hermann and his Bordfunker Uffz. Heinz Meinhardt was hit by AA fire from the convoy they were attacking and plunged into the North Sea east of Harwich. 2.Staffel suffered a second loss on July 27 when the Bf-110C-4/B of Oblt. Franz Fallenbacher received a direct hit with its bombs still attached and blew up in mid-air. By the end of July, Erpr.Gr.210 claimed 80,000 tons of British shipping during their two weeks of operations.

     The next few weeks were spent re-equipping 1.Staffel with new Bf-110C-4/B aircraft to replace the Bf-110C-6s, and moving to Calais-Marck airfield for the coming assault on Britain

     On August 11, Bf-109E-4Bs of 3.Staffel shot down barrage balloons protecting Dover Harbor, followed by Bf-110s of 2.Staffel bombing the harbor.  That afternoon, Erpr.Gr.210 sent out after Convoy “Booty” off the coast of Essex, accompanied by Do-17Zs from KG2, with escort from I/ZG 26. This was the first time 1.Staffel used Bf-110C-4/Bs, along with two C-6 strafers. The raiders were able to attack the convoy before being intercepted by a force of Hurricanes from 17 and 85 Squadrons and Spitfires from 74 Squadron. In the combat that followed, the two Bf-110C-6s from 1.Staffel were lost.  1./ZG 26 lost two Bf-110C-3s, while 2./ZG 26 had two damaged in action.

     August 12 would prove to be the busiest day of the Battle of Britain. Erpr.Gr.210 left Calais-Marck at 0930 to attack the radar stations around the south coast of England. Heading low over the Channel, the unit split into four formations. Gruppenkommandeur Rubensdörffer led the four Bf-110C-4/Bs of the Gruppenstab toward the station in the tiny village of Dunkirk, north of Canterbury; Oberleutnant. Otto Hintze led the Bf-109E-4/Bs of 3.Staffel to the Dover station; Oberleutnant. Wilhelm-Richard Rossiger led 2.Staffel’s Bf-110s towards Rye, with Oberleutnant Martin Lutz leading 1.Staffel’s Bf-110s to the Pevensey station. All four stations were hit, but the masts were not toppled.  All except Dunkirk were temporarily put out of action, but all were back in operation before the end of the day. All aircraft of Erpr.Gr.210 returned to Calais-Marck. So far, the tactic of using the fast Bf-110 at low altitude, operating below the radar screen, was proving effective.

     An hour after their return to Calais-Marck, Erpr.Gr.210  headed for Manston, on the south-eastern tip of Kent, joined by Dornier 17s of KG2.  Coming in under the radar, the formation made its approach unopposed. 65 Squadron managed to take off as the raid was in progress. Heading home, Erpr.Gr.210 was attacked  by 54 Squadron Spitfires and Hurricanes of 501 Squadron. One Bf-110C-4/B of 1.Staffel was slightly damaged.

     The third mission of the day came three hours later, when Erpr.Gr.210 hit Hawkinge airfield with a precision attack. Although considerable damage was done to the airfield, it was not put out of action. All aircraft of the unit returned to Calais-Marck, ending the most successful day in the history of Erpr.Gr.210.

     Bad weather on August 14 limited the unit to a second attack on Manston.  August 15, which dawned clear, would turn out to be the day remembered by the Luftwaffe as “Black Thursday,” and the darkest in the history of Erpr.Gr.210.

     That afternoon, the unit left Calais-Marck to attack Martlesham Heath airfield in Suffolk. Unescorted, they flew in over the North Sea and reached the target unopposed, though Hurricanes of 1 and 17 Squadrons had been scrambled to intercept. The Bf-110s hit the airfield, and damage was compounded by a direct hit on a Fairey Battle loaded with bombs. As the Messerschmitts turned for home, the Hurricanes finally made contact, but this time the losses were all on the RAF side, with three Hurricanes of 1 Squadron shot down and one from 17 Squadron crash-landed. One Bf-110 received sufficient damage it was not serviceable to fly on any other missions that day.

     At 1820, Rubensdörffer led the Gruppenstab and all three Staffeln on a raid against Kenley airfield, with JG 52 providing Bf-109s for escort. Over the Channel, one Bf-110 from 2.Staffel turned back due to mechanical problems, leaving 14 Bf-110C-4/Bs of the Stab and 1. And 2.Staffeln and the eight Bf-109E-4/Bs of 3.Staffel. On the way in, the escort became detached and turned back. Erprobungsgruppe 210 continued on alone.

     As he approached the target over Seven Oaks, for some reason Rubensdörffer lined up dived to attack Croydon, not Kenley, just as the last Hurricanes of 111 Squadron lifted off from Croydon, while 32 Squadron was scrambled from nearby Biggin Hill.

     Croydon, the pre-war civil airport for London, was inside the line of Greater London that the Luftwaffe was prohibited from attacking at this time. While the airfield was now used by the RAF, it was considered off-limits.  Erprobungsgruppe 210 sighted the Hurricanes climbing out of Biggin and Kenley as Rubensdörffer led the unit down on Croydon.  The field was hit hard, and as the three staffeln came off the target and set about climbing to re-group and head for home, they knew that two enemy squadrons were in pursuit.  Both RAF squadrons hit the Germans as they attempted to reform, and the Bf-110s formed “defense circles” for several minutes, but upon breaking for home the losses started.

     The four Bf-110s of the Gruppenstab came under attack by 111 Squadron. Rubensdörffer was hit but the Bf-110 kept flying.  Taking the airplane so low that he was maneuvering around farm houses, Rubensdörffer streaked for the coast.  A Hurricane managed to get within range as the 110 lifted slightly to go over a church steeple and set the fleeing German afire. Moments later, as the flames engulfed a wing, Rubensdörffer and his Bordfunker, Obergefreiter Richard Kretcher were killed in the explosion as they hit ground just short of a farmhouse. At almost the same time Gruppenadjutant Oberleutnant Horst Redler was shot down.  He died three days later of his wounds while his Bordfunker, Obergefreiter Johann Werner became a POW. Hit badly, Gruppe Technicsoffizier Leutnant Karl-Heinz Koch made a successful belly-landing, both he and Bordfunker Unteroffizier Rolf Kahl being captured. Three more Bf-110’s of 1.Staffel were shot down. Leutnant Horst Marx, who tried to help Rubensdörffer, was shot down by a Hurricane and abandoned his Bf-109E-4/B to become a POW. 2.Staffel lost two Bf-110’s, with three of the four crew being captured. The two RAF squadrons suffered no losses in the action.

     Even without the leadership of Rubensdörffer, Erprobungsgruppe 210 continued to make daring low-level attacks through the remainder of the Battle of Britain, taking losses that were never so bad as they were on “Black Thursday,” though the unit lost three more commanding officers. Following the great battle of September 15, operations tailed off until September 24, when Erpr.Gr.210 again set out for their third attack on the Spitfire works in Southampton.  Once again, they failed to hit this target, and took their final loss of the battle, a Bf-110C-4/B shot down into the Channel.

     In a raid against the Parnall Aircraft Factory near Bristol on September 27, Erpr.Gr.210 could only put up ten Bf-110’s for the raid when the Gruppenstab, 1. and 2.Staffeln should normally have been able muster twice that many, an indication of the state of things in Zerstörer units by this stage of the Battle.  Escorted by III/JG 26, the Germans were intercepted by RAF squadrons before they could reach the target.  As they turned and fled south, four aircraft were shot down, including the third Gruppenkommandeur, Hauptmann. Martin Lutz, a Condor Legion veteran, who was killed when his Bf-110C-4/B crashed.  The unit also lost the Staffelkapitän of 2.Staffel, Oblt. Wilhelm-Richard Rossiger. ZG 26 lost six aircraft.

     Erpr.Gr.210 flew a mission to London on October 29th losing the Bf-110 flown by Feldwebel Siegfried Troppl, who died with his Bordfunker, Unteroffizier Otto Buttner when they crashed back in France. This was the final loss of what was later known as the Battle of Britain.

     On November 15, Erpr.Gr.210 became SchnellKampfGeschwader 210 and reverted to shipping strikes. Having lost four Gruppenkommandeure, command was taken by Major Wolfgang Schenck, who would take the unit to the Eastern Front in 1941 and rise to prominence when SKG 210 became ZG 1 on the Russian Front.  He would later command “Kommando Schenck” to evaluate the Me-262 as a fighter-bomber and become Geschwaderkommodore of KG51 on the Me-262A-2a at the end of the war.

     Had more units of the Zerstörerwaffe been employed in the strike role like Erpr.Gr.210, particularly during the airfield attacks in August, the outcome of the Battle of Britain might have been different, since a speeding Bf-110 at low altitude was a very difficult catch for a Hurricane or Spitfire without a lot of luck being involved, as happened on August 15.

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