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Australia in WW2-Air War Against Germany and Italy, 1939–1943 -The Battle of Britian and the German Blockade

Australia in WW2-Air War Against Germany and Italy, 1939–1943 -The Battle of Britian and the German Blockade

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Published by cjnjr1
This volume describes the part played by increasing numbers of Australians in the first four years of the air war in Europe and the Middle East. In 1939 there was one Australian squadron in England and there were some 400 Australians in the RAF. At the end of 1943 there were about 15,000 Australian airmen serving in the war against Germany and Italy, a proportion of them being in eighteen Australian squadrons. Since the Australians were so widely dispersed – almost every RAF squadron contained some – the author has outlined the story of the air war as a whole, assessing its achievements and examining the commanders’ policies in the light of German and Italian as well as British documents. At the same time he has illustrated the general narrative with accounts of the experiences of individual Australian crews.

This chapter discribes the actions which took place during the Battle of Britian
This volume describes the part played by increasing numbers of Australians in the first four years of the air war in Europe and the Middle East. In 1939 there was one Australian squadron in England and there were some 400 Australians in the RAF. At the end of 1943 there were about 15,000 Australian airmen serving in the war against Germany and Italy, a proportion of them being in eighteen Australian squadrons. Since the Australians were so widely dispersed – almost every RAF squadron contained some – the author has outlined the story of the air war as a whole, assessing its achievements and examining the commanders’ policies in the light of German and Italian as well as British documents. At the same time he has illustrated the general narrative with accounts of the experiences of individual Australian crews.

This chapter discribes the actions which took place during the Battle of Britian

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Published by: cjnjr1 on Jul 19, 2013
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CHAPTER
2
THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN AND THE GERMA
N
BLOCKAD
E
I
N
mid-June 1940 it was necessary for both protagonists to review thei
r
strategy for the future conduct of a war, which, with the imminent with-
drawal of France, had become a struggle between a purely maritime natio
n
and a purely continental power. The issues were abundantly clear an
d
were stated by Mr Churchill on 18th June
:
What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over
. I expect that th
e
Battle of Britain is about to begin
..
.
. The whole fury and might of the enem
y
must very soon be turned on us
. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in thi
s
island or lose the war
..
.
. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty, and s
o
bear ourselves that if the British Commonwealth and Empire lasts for a thousan
d
years men will still say, "This was their finest hour
.
"
Thus, while the United Kingdom, now almost stripped of militar
y
forces fully equipped to fight a modern war, had to shelter behind se
a
power and its extension air power until strong enough to renew th
e
struggle, Germany had two main strategic plans from which to choose
.
As an immediate project in keeping with the avowed German policy o
f
"
short wars
"
, military invasion and conquest was the obvious path, bu
t
Admiral Raeder and other influential Germans advocated a long-rang
e
plan of blockade and bombardment
.
Preparations for these two complementary offensives began early i
n
July as soon as Hitler
'
s hopes of a negotiated peace had been shattere
d
by a scornful refusal to compromise
. During the succeeding months, whil
e
the struggle grew fiercer, Germany still attempted to employ the shado
w
of threats instead of the reality of action by psychological warfare directe
d
against Britain and neutral countries
. On 11th July Hitler proposed t
o
make an intimidatory speech in the Reichstag in order that "the content
s
would become known to the British public
"
accompanied by a carefully
-
timed air attack on Liverpool
. These were to emphasise the uselessness o
f
further resistance
. Inspired statements and broadcasts continued to pres
s
the same point. On 6th August, for instance, General Lander, a forme
rhead of the German Coastal Air Forces, declared that "England mus
t
collapse under the rapidly-increasing shortage of shipping and transpor
t
brought about by war on British shipping and attacks on British harbour
s
..
. the British Isles reduced to their own resources can no longer live
.
"
Despite this propaganda campaign, however, it soon became obvious tha
t
the decision must be reached on a military and not a political plane
.
Bearing in mind the comparatively short campaigning period still lef
t
in 1940 (for any cross-Channel invasion in winter would have been
hazardous from natural causes alone) Germany had three months to trai
n
an expeditionary force, collect a fleet of transports and solve suppl
y
problems
. The absolute prerequisite, however, was that both the British
 
34
THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN
July-Sept 194
0
navy and the air force should be utterly crushed and deprived of base
s
from which they could interfere with the invasion fleet
. Raeder wa
s
under no illusion that his naval units or even his U-boats could do muc
h
in this regard and the whole task devolved on the
Luftwaffe
.
Thus, o
n
2nd July, from newly-acquired bases in France, German aircraft bega
n
to attack shipping in the English Channel
. The size of the formations s
o
employed increased until on 10th July
l
some seventy aircraft were use
d
against convoys off Dover and Margate
. Attacks against convoys an
d
south-coast towns continued on an increasing scale until 7th August i
n
an attempt to test and weaken the R
.A
.F
. defences
. Then came a ten-da
y
all-out effort to overwhelm Fighter Command by sheer weight of numbers
.
The heavy battles of this second phase were not decisive and after a brie
f
lull the
Luftwaffe
began on 24th August to bomb airfields and the oute
r
defences of London in preparation for a full-scale day and night assaul
t
against the capital which began on 7th September and lasted for thre
e
weeks
. Thereafter mass daylight attacks by German long-range bomber
s
were abandoned and the final stage of the Battle of Britain was marke
d
by high-flying fighter-bomber activity by day and concentrated night
-
bombing with London still the main objective
.
When the issue was joined early in July Fighter Command dispose
d
fifty-two operational squadrons, all but three of which had been heavil
y
engaged in previous battles
. To meet the onslaught from an estimate
d
1,800 German bombers and dive bombers backed by 1,200 fighters, th
e
R
.A
.F. could provide No
. 11 Group in the south-east with only twelv
e
squadrons of Hurricanes and six of Spitfires
.
2
This force of fewer tha
n
220 aircraft could on occasion be reinforced by units from adjacen
t
fighter groups (Nos
. 10 and 12) if not themselves under attackbut a
s
the weeks passed the necessity to keep No
. 11 Group at maximum strengt
h
caused progressive dilution and weakness in all other areas
. That thi
s
small but highly-trained force was not indeed swept from the sky a
s
Goering intended was due partly to the superiority of the English eight
-
gun fighters and the incalculable advantage of an efficient radar-reportin
g
and controlled-interception scheme
; partly to the inspired high endeavou
r
with which the R
.A
.F
. pilots faced their task
; and partly to faulty Germa
n
tactics which tied their own fighters too closely to their bombers and thu
s
deprived them of initiative in combat
. Even though Fighter Command wa
s
sorely weakened when the
Luftwaffe
abandoned its assault at the end o
f
October, it had nevertheless won a victory as decisive as Trafalgar, fo
r
the German High Command, realising that the prerequisite of ai
r
supremacy had not been gained, had already halted preparations for th
e
invasion of England
.
3
r
This date is generally regarded as marking the commencement of the "Battle of Britain" proper
.
2
A
sqn normally held 18 aircraft and 26 pilots on strength but operated as a fighting unit wit
h12 aircraft
. Thus all subsequent reference to a "sqn" in the air will indicate 12 fighters
.
• Gen Keitel, Chief of Combined Services Headquarters, issued a top secret memorandum on 1
2
Oct
: "The Fuehrer has decided that from now on until the spring, preparations for `Sea Lion
'
shall be continued solely for the
purpose
of
maintaining military
and
political pressure o
n
England
.
.
.
."
"
Sea Lion
"
was the German code name for the
invasion
of
the United Kingdom
 
July-Sept
THE GERMAN ASSAULT
3
5
Any brief analysis must necessarily over-simplify a struggle of suc
h
epic proportions as was the Battle of Britain
. Some thirty Australians wh
o
had survived the hurly-burly of May and June fought in Fighter Comman
d
during these vital months of constant readiness for action
. Australia
n
records which have been preserved are skeletal, patchy and unsatisfactory
,
but do give some glimpse of the tumult in the clouds, although the detail
s
of much that was worthily and nobly done have passed from human know
-
ledge because the men did not live to tell the tale
. Ten Australians wer
e
killed and one became a prisoner, and it is worth noting that the distinc-
tion subsequently earned by those who survived gives, no less than thei
r
deeds, the measure of the loss to the R
.A
.F. of those who did not
. Thi
s
group, though a minute portion of "The Few" extolled in the Prim
e
Minister's stirring tribute, were scattered among many squadrons, but di
d
achieve much
.
4
Flight Lieutenant Sheen rejoined No
. 72 Squadron the
n
based in Northumberland on 29th July and was thus well based whe
n
on 15th August in addition to day-long raids along the south coast, th
e
Germans sent a two-pronged attack just before noon against Sunderlan
d
and Driffield
. This was a rash tactical move for the area was well out o
f
range of the Me-109 so that the bombers were supported only by twin-
engined Me-110's. Sheen himself destroyed two of the attackers—a Ju-8
8
and an Me-110—in a particularly outstanding victory in which more tha
n
thirty enemy aircraft were shot down
.
5
He wrote subsequently "I
remember vaguely lots of aircraft blowing up and people baling out al
l
over the sky and bombs dropping into the sea
.
"
This German force ha
d
been sent from Norway and Denmark to turn the flank of the mainFighter Command defences, but the disastrous experiment was no
t
repeated
. No
. 72 moved south to Biggin Hill at the end of August an
d
Sheen led a flight in the heavy engagements around London, shootin
g
down three enemy aircraft and was himself obliged to bale out twic
e
in three days. On the second occasion he was wounded and his Spitfire
had plunged down from 25,000 to 800 feet before he could disengag
e
himself from it
. Flight Lieutenant Olive also gave a vivid account of
German attacks against fighter airfields
:
"
They came over and bombe
d
our base
. On one occasion we were lined up ready to take off when theJerries came into view behind us, diving to the attack
. Our only chanc
e
lay in getting into the air quickly
. Instead of each section taking off i
n
turn, we all opened our throttles and raced across the aerodrome in
a
terrific scramble
. I don't know how we managed to get off without
a
mishap
. A hundred and thirty bombs were dropped behind and aroun
d
us during that furious rush across the ground
. But we did get off, an
d
once in the air we turned and stung the raiders plenty for disturbing ou
r
beehive
." The pilots themselves, while vaguely realising the larger issues
,
were absorbed in an ever-present urgency in which only the immediate
"Never in the realms of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few
.
"
s The original claims were much higher. Wartime assessments credited Fighter Cd with 18
0
victories in all actions on this memorable
day,
but subsequent research has established tha
t
total German losses were 76
.

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