Battle of Britain Day, 15th September 1940

Pilots of No. 601 (County of London) Squadron run to their waiting Hurricane aircraft at RAF Northolt, 9 January 1941. Squadron scramble staged for General 'Hap' Arnold, USAAF. © IWM (HU 2408)

Pilots of No. 601 (County of London) Squadron run to their waiting Hurricane aircraft at RAF Northolt, 9 January 1941. Squadron scramble staged for General ‘Hap’ Arnold, USAAF. © IWM (HU 2408)

New Luftwaffe tactics

On 15 September – now known as “Battle of Britain Day” – the Luftwaffe launched two huge bombing raids on London. Believing that the RAF was close to breaking point, the attacks were a repeat of their monumental and devastating attack eight days before. Smaller formations of German planes were also planned to attack Portland and Southampton.

The Luftwaffe had introduced a significant change of tactics on 7 September. They had switched away from attacking RAF bases and radar stations to focus on bombing London.

This inadvertently gave Fighter Command much-needed breathing space. As a result, by 15 September, the British were in much better shape than they had been a week before. Their pilots had been rested, squadrons replenished and infrastructure repaired.

Air-Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding, head of Fighter Command, had brought planes to the South East from all over the country.

The battle begins

On the 15th, Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited RAF Uxbridge, the headquarters of No. 11 Group, Fighter Command. This group was led by Air Vice-Marshal Keith Park and was responsible for the defence of London and the south-east of England. On this day, it was the beating heart of the battle.

The first wave of about 250 bombers came over the Channel at 11am and whilst many Luftwaffe planes were intercepted by the RAF, around half managed to make it to London and drop their loads. A second wave of about the same number returned at 2pm believed to be aiming for South London and the railways out to Kent. The raids continued into the night.

Churchill later described what he saw at 11 Group: “Presently the red bulbs showed that the majority of our squadrons were engaged. In a little while, all our squadrons were fighting and some had already begun to return for fuel. All were in the air. The lower line of bulbs was out. There was not one squadron left in reserve”.

The Luftwaffe are defeated

During both of the raids that day, the RAF managed to scatter many of the German bomber formations. This meant that when the surviving bombers did drop their loads, they fell over a wide area and were less harmful. Thousands of Londoners stood in the streets below watching the battle rage over their heads.

The RAF claimed to have shot down 185 German planes; in fact, it was 61, but these were the highest losses the Luftwaffe had suffered for over a month. The RAF lost 31 planes.

Although fighting continued in the air for several more weeks, and British cities were bombed sporadically for the rest of the war, German tactics to achieve air superiority ahead of an invasion failed.

Sunday 15 September marked a clear and decisive defeat for the Luftwaffe. They abandoned the daylight bombing of London on 30 September, although night-time bombing continued into May 1941.

All details from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/events/battle_of_britain_day

For more details, also see: http://www.battleofbritain1940.net/0041.html

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