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Royal Air Force Bomber Command 60th Anniversary


Campaign Diary
The Battle of Britain (June-October 1940)

 

June

Daylights raids for the Blenheims concentrated on airfields in occupied countries with occasional forays into Germany. Night operations were mounted by Hampdens, Wellingtons and Whitleys against widespread targets in Germany and airfields in Holland and France. The Hampdens concentrated on Gardening sorties. Poor weather hampered all operations and many planned attacks were aborted by the crews en-route to their targets.

July

The Blenheims continued their operations over the occupied countries. On 2 July, a force of 11 Blenheims is despatched to bomb targets in Germany. 10 abort due to poor weather whilst the one remaining aircraft was shot down attacking the Dortmund-Ems canal. The high number of failed missions continued throughout the whole month, and when aircraft did eventually find a target to attack, the German fighters were normally close at hand. The gathering invasion fleet in the Channel ports was a frequent target for Blenheim operations and as the month progressed an increasing number of airfield attacks (what would later be known as 'intruder' raids) were flown. The peril of daylight operations was highlighted on a couple of occasions; on 9th July, 7 Blenheims from a total of 12 were lost in an attack on Stavangar airfield; and on the following day, No 107 Squadron lost 5 out of 6 aircraft despatched on a raid to Amiens. As for night operations, the numbers of aircraft involved rarely exceeded 70 aircraft, and these were often split between 6 or more targets. Only once, during the night of 25th/26th July, was the number greater than 100 (166). The month did mark the first use by Bomber Command of the 2,000lb bomb (dropped by Flying Officer GP Gibson - who we shall meet again later in the conflict - of No 73 Squadron during an attack on the German battleship Scharnhorst at Kiel during 2nd/3rd July). Some night operations also included Battles, back in the Command after their torrid time in France. Crews nearing the end of the training were also sent on low-risk missions (generally leaflet-drops over France) as they neared the end of their course to give them a feel for what life would be like on the squadrons. The Hampdens also continued their Gardening sorties with up to 12 aircraft on such duties each night.

Kiel, 2nd/3rd July
Bomber Command drawing of Kiel with commercial and naval vessel marked in the various parts of the port. Probably the easiest reference point for the map is the Outer Dockyard Basin in the centre of the diagram. Mosaic of various recce photos of Kiel after the attack on 2nd/3rd July.

August

A change of duties for the Blenheims saw a number (normally 6 aircraft) employed on anti-shipping patrols on most days of the month. They rarely saw anything worthy of further action. Having suffered terribly at the hands of German fighters earlier in the year (see 17 May 1940), No 82 Squadron was almost wiped in a single operation on 13 August. Twelve aircraft from No 82 were sent to attack Hamstede airfield in Holland. Only one aircraft returned, the rest having been caught by fighters over the airfield during their bombing runs. It wasn't just the fighters that the bomber crews had to contend with. Poor weather (or even a lack of cloud cover) forced many crews to abort their missions, and on many occasions only one or two aircraft from an original force of twenty or thirty would complete their tasks. Bomber Command planning staff were still sending small numbers of medium bombers (60-80) to multiple targets during night operations. For example, the night of 10th/11th August saw 57 aircraft involved in raids on 9 targets. These had very little effect on the population of the cities (Hamburg, Wilhelmshafen and Münster were frequent targets) indeed, the three and a half months covered by the Battle of Britain saw 14 raids against Münster. Only on one night did more than 10 bombs fall. Bombing accuracy was still a major problem for those crews who managed to find their intended targets as there were no navigation aids to help them, and 'dead reckoning' (speed and heading corrected for forecast winds) frequently caused aircraft to miss their targets by many miles. The industrial centre of the Ruhr was often targeted as were many cities including, for the first time, those in the east and south of Germany. The month also saw the first Victoria Cross awarded to Bomber Command. It was to Flight Lieutenant RAB Learoyd of No 49 Squadron for his part in a successful attack on the Dortmund-Ems canal near Münster during 12th/13th August.

Dortmund-Ems Canal, 12th/13th August
The viaduct on the Dortmund-Ems canal near Münster before the attack lead by Flt Lt Learoyd The same viaduct after being demolished during the raid of 12th/13th August for which Learoyd was awarded the Victoria Cross

September

For the first week of the month, the only Blenheim sorties were the anti-shipping patrols. In fact, the majority of daylight operations were of this nature and rarely featured more than a dozen aircraft. Airfields were becoming secondary targets as the Command sought to disrupt Hitler's invasion plans by targeting the barges moored along the length of the Channel coast. The nighttime operations were of a completely different nature. The numbers of aircraft used was starting to increase. On fourteen nights the total number of aircraft on operations exceeded 100, and for six nights in the middle of September between 92 and 194, the highest of any night so far, concentrated on the Channel ports with minor operations against German targets. The night of 14th/15th September saw an oil depot near Antwerp bombed by 43 Wellingtons in an untypical concentration of aircraft against one target. The following night, Sgt John Hannah, an 18-year old wireless operator with No 83 Squadron (Hampdens), bravely fought a fire in his aircraft after it had been hit by flak near Antwerp. Despite being badly burned, Hannah stayed with the aircraft and extinguished the fire allowing the Hampden to recover to its base. For this, Sgt Hannah was awarded Bomber Command's second VC. Berlin was the objective of a raid by 129 aircraft during the night of 23rd/24th September and 112 aircraft claimed to have found their target despite a ground mist making identification difficult. This contrasted sharply when 17 aircraft claimed to have bombed the German Air Ministry building in Berlin. Official records from the city show that only 6 bombs fell on the whole of Berlin that night!

Invasion barges massed in the port of Dunkirk.

October

Blenheims returned to limited attacks against German targets, using cloud cover wherever possible to cover their approach. The anti-shipping patrols with little of note to report and as a consequence, more Blenheims were joining the night raids. These returned to the pattern of July and August with smaller numbers of aircraft being sent to multiple targets. The largest single raids were about 20-30 aircraft against the larger German cities and on two nights, 20th/21st and 24th/25th October, Hamburg was bombed by a number Wellingtons which started 12 and 13 fires respectively although the loss of life was slight. German fighters also started marauding flights, whether intention or not, near Bomber Command airfields as the aircraft were departing for their night's mission. Twice, the first time being on 20th/21st October, Whitleys were caught by German night fighters shortly after take-off and shot down. The night of 15th/16th October marked the final operation by Battles in Bomber Command.

Bomber Command paid a visit to Antwerp in Belgium during October, and caused a considerable amount of damage.

1940 January-June  1940 July-December
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Date Last Updated : Wednesday, April 6, 2005 2:40 AM

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