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The Hardest Day

Weather: fine to begin with but cloudy later

Fighter Command Serviceable Aircraft as at 0900 hours:

  • Blenheim – 50
  • Spitfire – 228
  • Hurricane – 396
  • Defiant – 27
  • Gladiator – 5
  • Total – 706

Early that afternoon saw a return to heavier attacks. These were aimed at airfields south of London, Biggin Hill, Kenley and West Malling. The raid on Kenley was especially damaging. It was delivered simultaneously by enemy aircraft flying at several thousand feet with others attacking at a height of less than 100ft. A number of aircraft were destroyed on the ground. Several hangars and other buildings were also hit and there were casualties. 12 people were killed in a direct hit on a shelter. The operations room had to be relocated in a butcher’s shop nearby. The damage, though severe, was made good in a couple of days. Squadrons had to be temporarily diverted. Croydon was also bombed and further damage done. Biggin Hill was another target for the dual level attack, one from enemy aircraft flying at 5000ft and the other from Do17s flying at a 100ft. The latter ran into heavy trouble, losing over half their number. The damage was, however, considerable.

Later that afternoon there were a series of raids from aircraft of Luftflotte 3 which hit Thorney Island on the coast doing considerable damage and destroying a number of aircraft on the ground and on the airfield of Ford, also on the coast, which was heavily damaged.

The final raids of the day were on Croydon and also on Manston where 12 Me109s once more beat up the airfield destroying aircraft on the ground and causing more casualties. Fighter Command flew 760 sorties and destroyed 71 German aircraft against a loss for the RAF of 39 aircraft with 10 pilots killed.

The week had seen the virtual end of operations by Ju87 dive bombers. They were proving just too vulnerable. As for the RAF, it was becoming evident that the sighting of vital functions such as control rooms should not have been on airfields themselves. They should instead have been widely dispersed. The most dangerous attacks during the week had been those at low level. These had been almost impossible to guard against. But from the German point of view they had been hugely costly. They were to be replaced by raids at medium height of several thousand feet.

54 Squadron Operational Record Book – 18 August
A great day! In 4 sorties the squadron bore the brunt of the station’s thrust against the enemy. A 20 minute “warming up” over Manston was followed by the leisurely shooting down of a Me 110 which descended from 31,000 feet to sea level rather more rapidly than it could have originally intended.

12:40 hours – first big attack of the day. 10 destroyed, probable and damaged – no loss to squadron (plane or pilot).

16:45 hours – 2nd wave of bombers and their escorts – this time about 300 strong – came North and South of the Thames. It looked as if a pincer movement was being evolved with Hornchurch the objective! Once again the squadron dealt faithfully with the enemy – being able to include some damage of the main formation, which might have made things very unpleasant for the station:

14 destroyed, damaged and probables. No loss to squadron.
Total for day: 8 destroyed, 6 probable, 11 damaged.

Reported Casualties (RAF Campaign Diary 18th August 1940):

*  Enemy: 139 confirmed, 26 probable, 45 damaged
*  Own: 22 aircraft with 12 pilots safe.

Todays’s theme: Captains and Commanders – Richard Saul



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