You are currently browsing the daily archive for July 16, 2010.

Weather: mainly poor with fog extending from northern France across the Channel.

In a number of isolated encounters the Luftwaffe lost 5 aircraft while the RAF lost 2 fighters. The RAF flew 313 sorties.

It was on this day that Hitler issued his directive for the preparations for Sealion, the invasion of Britain. Thus ended the first week of the Battle. The RAF had performed reasonably well in combat against their adversary. Their pre-war tactics of flying in close formation and attacking according to a formula had soon to be abandoned. They had seen the loose German formations, in pairs with the leader flying slightly ahead of his wing man who flew slightly behind and above. This gave German pilots a serious advantage. The pair was called a rotte with two pairs being called the schwarm. The RAF was to adapt this formation into what they would call a “finger four”, in which the index finger would represent the leader. The German pilot, Werner Mölders, who had worked this formation out during his service in the Spanish Civil War, was to become the originator of the standard for air fighting, which lasted almost until the present day.

54 Squadron Operational Record Book, 16 July, 23:00 hours
For the first time during our stay at Rochford the majority of the squadron relaxed after release at a dance organised for the squadron by the doctors and nurses of the Southend General Hospital. This gesture was greatly appreciated and full advantage taken of it.

This first confrontation between the Luftwaffe and the RAF arose from the persistence of the Admiralty in continuing with a traditional coastal trade, forming merchant ships into convoys. They arranged for protection both by convoy escorts, usually destroyers, and by air cover in the form of standing patrols by Fighter Command.

This turned out to be too much for the Germans, who could not resist attacking such a juicy target. From July 10th onwards, these convoys were under continuous attack by the Luftwaffe, who targeted the whole coastal trade with a view, presumably, to eliminating it. Certainly the Luftwaffe had its successes here. Several destroyers were sunk and the Navy was forced to withdraw them entirely from Dover to Harwich and Sheerness. From the RAF’s point of view the campaign was not what Fighter Command had prepared for. Inevitably pilots involved in the dogfights risked drowning when they took to their parachutes, and a number were lost in this way. The RAF had no air sea rescue service to put into operation, whereas the Germans had their float planes for this very purpose. Indeed, during the Battle over land in August and September, Park issued orders hoping to prevent pilots being lost over the sea.

Some of the pilots during this first phase did question what they were doing fighting the Luftwaffe for this purpose. It is possible to ask even at this distance why the goods transported by sea at such cost to life continued. However, there are some who maintain that without this coal supply such vital industries such as aircraft construction would have been unable to continue to operate in the south of England.

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