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For the RAF, fighting the Kanalkampf wasn’t what Fighter Command had really prepared for. The expectation had been that the enemy would be flying over the coast and trying to penetrate the mainland. The radar had been deployed so that enemy aircraft could be intercepted as they crossed the coast. The same applied to the Observer Corps, who were to detect their passage over land. But in this first phase of the Battle, enemy aircraft were being intercepted over the sea so that the convoys of coastal ships could be defended. The RAF hadn’t invested in Air Sea Rescue Services, but the Germans had. This meant that when one of our pilots got shot up by an enemy fighter and had to bail out he was at serious risk of falling into the sea and drowning. Whereas, a German pilot in the same predicament would have been provided with, for example, a solid block of dye which, when chucked into the sea, would spread a large stain of vivid colour visible for miles, enabling the downed pilot to be found.

Secondly the pilot stood a good chance of being picked up by German sea planes, usually He59s which were deployed for the task. British pilots just had to rely on luck that they would be seen by a fishing vessel or a coast guard cutter if they were to be saved from drowning. Losing pilots who would have survived being shot down over land, but because they fell into the sea risked drowning, was a serious concern to Keith Park AOC of 11 Group. Eventually, in late July, he managed to obtain the use of a dozen Lysanders, a light aircraft used in army cooperation, to help rescue pilots in the war. But, it was not until the following year that a committee was set up in the Air Ministry to deal with the issue of air sea rescue; too late for the Battle which was now over.

Weather: another day of mixed weather in the Channel.

Fighter Command Serviceable Aircraft as at 0900 hours:

  • Blenheim – 62
  • Spitfire – 243
  • Hurricane – 282
  • Defiant – 12
  • Total – 599

A relatively quiet but successful day. 2 enemy aircraft were shot down in combat over convoys but this was without loss to the RAF.

PO DH Wissler – Diary, 23 July
We went over to Martlesham and did a hell of a lot of flying. Two patrols one of 1.05hrs and one of 1.45hrs, at about 7pm we were told to take off for Debden, but having got half way home we were recalled and brought to readiness again. Eventually we were released at 9.15 and arrived to make a dusk landing. I shall sleep very well tonight, given half the chance.
(Reproduced with kind permission of the Imperial War Museum and Copyright holder)

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