Fighter Command Serviceable Aircraft as at 0900 hours:
- Blenheim – 63
- Spitfire – 238
- Hurricane – 408
- Defiant – 23
- Gladiator – 8
- Total – 740
This day was to see the end of the days of bad weather and the start of a fine spell lasting some two weeks. These next two weeks were to be the period of greatest strain on Fighter Command. The period ushered in the major effort by the Luftwaffe to finish off the fight against the RAF. The enemy was to concentrate on attacking the airfields surrounding London and at the same time for it to try and bring the remaining RAF fighters up into the air where they could shoot them down.
To strengthen the attack, the bulk of the Me109s, on the strength of Luflotte 3 on the Cherbourg peninsula, were flown across to the airfields of Luftflotte 2. A similar move of these Me109 fighters was made from Luftflotte 5 in Denmark and Norway. This would enable the protective fighters flown by the Luftwaffe, when accompanying their bombers on their operations, to be strengthened. The Germans also bowed to the inevitable in withdrawing much of the Ju87 strength from the battle. They were to be held in reserve against the time when German fighters had at last wrested control of the air over England from the RAF. It would be then that they would come into their own and punish British installations on the ground.
Meanwhile, Park and Dowding readied themselves for the renewed onslaught which this fresh period of fine weather would bring in its wake. The one problem which they could not overcome was the growing shortage of pilots. They were never short of new planes, but pilots were a different matter. It took months to train them. Looking forward to the next month or two, the prospect of a growing pilot shortage was a nightmare to the two Commanders.
Furthermore, the new phase of the Battle, which was to start on 24th August saw Fighter Command squadrons suffering from sheer exhaustion. The pilots were often desperately short of sleep. Moreover, their nerves were often shot to pieces. They needed rest and recuperation. Instead, they were being asked to fight on all day and every day. The ground crew who serviced the planes were exhausted too. They had been working round the clock as well. They had got to an amazing pitch of efficiency. They were able to refuel, rearm and check over a squadron of Spitfires in ten minutes of their landing. Yet the whole command was operating whilst being bombed and strafed throughout daylight hours. Telephone lines were continually being cut, reconnected and the next day cut again. Death and injury were never far away. Unexploded bombs littered the average airfield. Operating in this manner, the question was beginning to be asked, how long could they continue like this. As they looked at the weeks to come, doubts were beginning to enter the minds of some who had been so confident at the beginning of the Battle. It couldn’t go on forever.
Nevertheless, on 24th August the Battle got going again. The weather was fine, at last. It was perfect for a resumption of the campaign. The day started with a large raid which had built up behind Calais of over 100 aircraft. As it advanced on Dover, RAF squadrons were sent up to intercept. The mass raid was indeed broken up. Smaller sections made for individual targets. These began with Manston. The raid was intercepted but substantial damage was done nevertheless, with 3 Defiants of 264 Squadron being shot down. These same raiders also bombed Ramsgate, firing their machine guns on ARP personnel. More attacks were to develop on Manston. The largest one of over 100 aircraft came in from the Le Havre area. As a result of the further damage, the decision was taken at Fighter Command to evacuate Manston altogether. It was to be closed to all but emergency use. The attacks went on that day on airfields further north such as North Weald which was also heavily damaged by a force of another 50 Do17s and He111s. Air raid warnings were now being sounded in London as the raids approached the metropolis.
Meanwhile, Portsmouth and Southampton had become targets for a massive raid from a fresh group of aircraft from airfields near to the Somme. The raid was intercepted with the result that many of the bombers jettisoned their bombs at random over Portsmouth causing more than 100 fatalities. That day Fighter Command flew no less than 936 sorties losing 22 fighters but shooting down 38 German fighters and bombers.
The day finished with a misdirected attack on the City of London. The bombs had been meant to fall on oil storage facilities in the docks but ended up falling on built up areas of London. Over 100 people in Bethnal Green were made homeless.
54 Squadron Operational Record Book – 24 August
Hornchurch bombed and squadron in action twice. In the afternoon came the raid on the Aerodrome…in spite of over 100 bomb craters in the vicinity very little damage was done except to the SW corner of the drome where dispersal pens and the concreted road were hit.
249 Squadron Operational Record Book – 24 August
2 aircraft of Blue Section ordered to intercept e/a over Bristol at 30,000 feet. No further information was given them by R/T, and no interception was made. It is worthy of note here that the controllers at Middle Wallop appear to be working under very difficult circumstances with untrained personnel and lack of equipment. On many of the patrols so far carried out, no information other than the original telephoned order and the order to land has been received.
56 Squadron Operational Record Book – 24 August- North Weald
The Squadron went up twice in the morning on X raids, without result. The Squadron flew to Rochford, there carrying out various patrols. On one of these they engaged a number of Heinkel 111s with fighter escort. P/O Wicks destroyed a Me109, the pilot balling out and being captured. S/Ldr Manton destroyed a Me109 and F/Lt Weaver sent a Heinkel 111 into the sea, seeing 2 of the crew bale out. The Squadron returned to North Weald late in the evening, while they were away the aerodrome had been bombed, considerable material damage (none of it vital) being caused, there being 10 soldiers killed from a direct hit on a shelter trench.
Reported Casualties (RAF Campaign Diary 24th August 1940):
* Enemy: 41 confirmed, 13 probable, 19 damaged
* Own: 20 aircraft with 6 pilots and 4 air gunners lost or missing.