Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Hardest Day

Battle of Britain Movie Poster                                                                                                  Source

I'm straying into Sarge's territory here, WWII aviation history in Europe, but here goes.  I'm not sure how I missed this, but just over a month ago was the 76th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain.  However, a year before that, a great event was held commemorating the 75th. A little more than a year ago to be exact- August 18th, a day known as “The Hardest Day”  That's the name given to a WWII air battle fought during the Battle of Britain in 1940 between the Nazi German Luftwaffe and British Royal Air Force (RAF).                                                                                

While this event was probably documented in some sort of print media or online in the UK, I only heard about it the other day via an email from a friend of mine. He’s not a reader of The Chant, but he is a great American and aviation fan himself, being an employee of Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) until it merged with US Air in 1987.  4F during Viet Nam due to medical issues, he’s served vicariously through his two sons- one in the Marine Corps, and one in the Army.  A history buff himself, I get things like this from him fairly often. Maybe I should share more. I’ll start with this one for now.

Aircraft partcipating in the flyover parked on Biggin Hill Airfield south of London             Source

Reenactors race to their planes
Actual photo from WWII the battle                                                                 Source
Pilots during the Battle of Britain had to race to their planes, sometimes several times a day, in order to get airborne in time to counter the Luftwaffe aircraft attacking Britain.

More Spitfires over southern England                                                            Source


These special two-seat Spitfires were among the veteran aircraft to take part in the commemoration 

This was part of a plan by the Germans to invade Britain, Codenamed Operation Sealion, but air supremacy had to be achieved first.  Hermann Goering predicted that the could destroy the RAF within four day, assuming the weather cooperated and he started pounding air strips across the south of England.
Goering in 1936                                       Source

So during the summer of 1940, the skies over the south of England became a battle ground as the Luftwaffe, led by Goering, launched a war of attrition with the RAF.  The Luftwaffe started by attacking coastal shipping and dive-bombing ports, but by August, they had switched their tactics to directly targeting the RAF.


Messerschmitt Bf-109

According to the caption on Pinterest, this is an actual photo of a Bf-109 as it flew over the English Channel during the Battle of Britain.
From August 13, the Germans sent a mixture of light, medium and dive bombers protected by fighters to attack the RAF. Fighter command responded by sending their force of Hurricanes after the bombers, while the Spitfires were ordered to patrol higher and engage the Luftwaffe's fighters.

Everyone loves the Spitfire, but apparently it was the Hurricane that was the more influential fighter during the battle.  It was cheaper to build and an easier fighter to fly, but wasn't as aerobatic as it's more popular hangar-mate.


On The Hardest Day, the Luftwaffe had assembled 2,200 aircrew and launched 850 missions against targets in the south of England, launching three major strikes, looking to destroy the airfields at Kenley, Biggen Hill, Gosport, Ford, Thorney Island, Hornchurch and North Weald.  The RAF launched 900 missions involving 600 aircrew to stop them.  Earlier in the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe launched attacks from Norway targeting northeast England, trying to divide the RAF's resources.  

Following the raids that day however, the RAF and Fleet Air Arm had lost 68 aircraft with the Germans losing 69, but over the entire battle which lasted most of the summer and half of the fall, the RAF had lost 1012 aircraft and 537 crew, compared to 1918 Aircraft and more than 2600 aircrew for the Luftwaffe.  The act of defiance, while incredibly costly to the RAF, was not the decisive blow intended by Hitler, which would have allowed him to launch Operation Sealion, plans for which were cancelled shortly thereafter. The Hardest Day was not only the turning point of the Battle of Britain, it was the turning point of the whole war.
 There's a very good summary of the battle here if you're interested.

The commemoration was made up of 18 Spitfires and six Hurricanes - each with their wonderfully sounding Rolls-Royce Merlin engines - as they took to the sky watched by thousands of supporters and veterans.  As in the first pictures, the pilots of the 24 aircraft scrambled before forming up into three flights, with one flying west over Surrey, West Sussex, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, a second flying east over the former RAF bases in Kent and the third going south east over Seven oaks and Ashford to make a special salute over the Battle of Britain Memorial at Capel-Le-Ferne on the white cliffs of Dover.

They then returned to Biggin Hill for several fly pasts, before a lone Spitfire performed a victory roll over the crowd and runway.  

Veterans gather by a Spitfire at the commemoration day of the Battle of Britain, at Biggin Hill airport in Kent. It was the airborne fight that saved Britain from falling to the Nazis.

Mustang in RAF livery

I'm not sure to what extent this Mustang participated in the commemoration, but it was apparently a popular display. 

HAWKER                HURRICANE
1030hp                Rolls-Royce Merlin engine
1,030hp                Rolls-Royce Merlin engine
36ft                11
29ft                11
31ft                4
TOP                SPEED
Eight                - .303 Browning machine guns
Eight                - .303 Browing machine            guns

Most of the info came from my friend's email which appears to be from a post in The Daily Mail Online, I only added some writing to help the transitions and a few pictures as sourced, via Fair Use.  


  1. The Photo Interpreter WAF seems ready to do her job!

  2. Nicely done, we'll make an historian of you yet!

  3. Very Nice, Tuna! Just did my short Chant Pre-flight and am looking forward to the lunch time in-depth perusal (but that's redundant).

  4. Various commentators have said that Britain and the RAF was less than 72 hours from total collapse when the Lufrwaffe changed tactics from anti-air to city busting and morale targets. There is some dispute to it but looking at attrition numbers one can easily conclude 3 or 4 days in late August would have turned the RAF into a combat ineffective unit . . . Never give up comes to mind.

    1. Probably not total collapse, but there was considerable opinion that they would have had to withdraw operating bases North out of Me-109 range. That would have been a severe disadvantage if Sea Lion had actually been mounted, though I believe that Britain would have committed every asset--regardless of cost--in that event.

  5. Very nice briefing Tuna. Great way to start the day. Was familiar with the BF-109, Stuka, Spitfire, Mustang as a kid- I do not remember anything about the Hurricane. Shows the importance of good PR!

  6. Very good. "The Battle of Britain" has always been one of my favorite movies; and, of course as an amateur Military History type, the actual Battle a source of considerable study and analysis. I hasten to point out that however heroic (and it was very much so) the defensive air battle won by the RAF was neither the main reason Hitler chose not to invade(those would be the Royal Navy ,logistics and attacking the Soviet Union), nor did it turn the tide of war for Britain (That would be the winning of the Battle of the Atlantic). Still: All honor to the heroes, for that they undoubtedly were. P.S. Really neat airplane pix!

  7. Great post, great pics, minor quibble: Whoever is providing that photo of pilots running to Spitfires as an "actual photo from battle" is smoking something I fear. That model Spitfire (bubble canopy, 4 blade prop) did not arrive until well after the BoB. I cannot find an online reference just now but I believe the bubble canopy model Spitfire was only in widespread use about the time the V-1 came into service.....

    1. Good catch. I modified the caption. Tuna is still learning.


    2. Yea, beat me to it. They look like MK XVIs to me, which are late 1944-onwards.

      (The stock photo bureau lists it as 1940, so I'm sure that's why it was used.)

    3. One of the Spits also appears to be sporting RNZAF roundels. All right--picky picky.

    4. One of the modern-photo Spits is actually a Seafire :)

    5. The Spits in the black and white photo with the bubble canopy (clearview in RAF parlance), pointed rudder and four bladed prop are either late Mk IXs, (early Mk IXs had the old canopy and the rudder top was round) or Mk XVIs.
      The two letters in front of the roundel are the squadron marking. The DV is for 129 Squadron which flew Mk IXs from June '43 to April '44.


  8. Right, the battle for the skies, didn't stop there. The battle extended extended to the middle of the Atlantic, South of Ireland, the British tried but could not stop the condors. Both sides were adamant on bombers, not aerial supremacy. I always wonder what if the leaders, thought of supremacy first then bombers. What would have happened then?

    1. Condors were finally countered by CAM/MAC ships (with one way Hurricane launches--in the North Sea--talk about BALLS) and then Wildcats (Martlets) off escort Carriers.

  9. Wouldn't you just love to take those six vets in front of that Spit down to a local pub and just sit back and listen to them?

    1. You know that within 3 minutes they would be doing that 'hand thingy' with each other.

      Saw it a lot growing up.

      Except from the Hustler pilot. He always sat back and laughed at everyone else.

  10. Great post Tuna.

    The RAF's role in the Battle of France isn't much talked about, but it was the first phase of the Battle of Britain, and offers some insight as to why things went they way they did for each side.

  11. Great post, thanks! That would have been something to see!

  12. Love the pic of the Stuka & Hurricane side-by-side. Wonder if they taunted each other in plane language? Probably, like the dwindling number of remaining combatants, they just congratulated each other on still being outside the boneyard.
    Odd thought (being odd, I have a lot of those)--when planes describe humans, do they make gestures with their wings?
    --Tennessee Budd


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