Operation Sealion - RAF and Luftwaffe Plans & Preparations

Discussions on WW2 in Western Europe & the Atlantic.
Knouterer
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Re: Operation Sealion - RAF and Luftwaffe Plans & Preparations

Postby Knouterer » 10 Mar 2017 20:50

I'm trying to work out a halfway plausible scenario in which the Luftwaffe gains the upper hand and the invasion is launched, but it's not easy.

The Luftwaffe had done very well in the lightning campaigns against Poland and in the West, but was not really prepared or equipped for a prolonged slugging match against a strong opponent, in the sense that there were practically no reserves of pilots and aircraft to replace losses, and the supply of new planes and new pilots was rather limited. At the time, training a LW fighter pilot took 13 months (20 months for bomber pilots), meaning that new pilots joining the Jagdgeschwader in Aug./Sept. 1940 were from the peacetime contingents that had started training before the war.

Furthermore, the LW did not really have a coherent strategy for this campaign. The Germans tried first this, then that - attacks on shipping in the Channel, attacks on radar stations, fighter sweeps over south-east England (Freie Jagd), then attacks on airfields and aircraft factories - and when none of it produced the expected results, they tried something else again.

As Kesselring later admitted, destroying the RAF was not practically possible because nine-tenths of the British Isles and most of the RAF airfields were beyond the effective range of the Bf 109, so Fighter Command always had the option of refusing battle and withdrawing to regroup and await more favourable conditions.

The LW was also hamstrung by poor intelligence, both at the top in Berlin where colonel Josef "Beppo" Schmid consistently underestimated RAF strength, and locally at Luftflotte level. Richard Hough and Denis Richards note in “The Battle of Britain” (1989, p. 214-215) that by August the Luftwaffe had found that the cost in men and machines of low-level reconnaissance was too high. From 10 July to 12 August, RAF fighters are known to have shot down 13 recon aircraft and damaged another four, mostly Do 17 it seems. Five more were lost to unknown causes. The LW then switched to using Ju 86P with special supercharged engines and pressurised cabins, which could not be intercepted (until special high-altitude Spitfires became available later in the war):

“On the other hand, at these altitudes, even superb German optical equipment was unable to reveal detail with any accuracy; and that was the reason why Sperrle’s Luftflotte 3 had been informed by intelligence that the Coastal Command airfield at Thorney Island, and the naval air stations at Ford and Gosport, were important front-line Fighter Command airfields: the parked aircraft appeared to confirm it.”

From mid-August to mid-September the Luftwaffe carried out 67 attacks against airfields, but 27 of these attacks, about 40%, were against stations that were not Fighter Command airfields.
On 12 August German photographic reconnaissance identified 18 Spitfires at Gosport when in fact there were none. Similarly, 16 Hurricanes were mistakenly spotted at Thorney Island and 10 Spitfires at Ford when neither airfield had any single-engine fighters (Prior, p. 215). The attacks based on such faulty intelligence were largely a wasted effort. The attack on Ford (HMS Peregrine, used by training units of the Fleet Air Arm) by StG 77 on 18 Aug. destroyed, besides a few Albacores and Swordfishes, five obsolete Blackburn Shark torpedo bombers and damaged about ten more, which may have slowed down the training program of the FAA a bit but did not seriously degrade the air defences of Britain.
"The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man's observation, not overturning it." Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

Knouterer
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Re: Operation Sealion - RAF and Luftwaffe Plans & Preparations

Postby Knouterer » 18 Mar 2017 11:50

Just came across an impressive multi-volume work, Die Jagdfliegerverbände der Deutschen Luftwaffe 1934 bis 1945, by Jochen Prien et al., sadly not in print. Volumes 4/I and 4/II concern the action on the Channel front and over Britain from 26 June 1940 to 21 June 1941, and contain a wealth of data from official German reports, including the actual strength of all Geschwader and Gruppen on various days.

Establishment strength (Sollstärke) of a Jagdgeschwader at that time was 4 planes in the Stabsschwarm and 39 in each of the three Gruppen (3 HQ plus 12 per Staffel), with the same number of pilots, making 121 in all.

(for comparison, a RAF Hurricane or Spitfire squadron at full strength had 18 planes and 26 pilots, and was expected to put 12 planes into the air when scrambled)

JG 2 “Richthofen” for example reported its plane strength on 24 August as 4 + 32 + 31 + 29 = 96, of which serviceable: 4 + 29 + 25 + 25 = 83.
By the 28th of September, plane strength was 4 + 36 + 32 + 26 = 98, of which serviceable: 3 + 29 + 22 + 11 = 65. I have found no particular explanation for the low serviceability rate of the IIIrd Gruppe; perhaps several aircraft had their worn engines replaced on the same day.

In general, by the end of September the shortage of pilots was becoming a bigger problem for the Luftwaffe than the shortage of aircraft, although JG 2 was still in reasonably good shape by 28 Sept. : 4 + 39 + 36 + 41 = 120 pilots, of which however only 81 were listed as operational (einsatzbereit). It may be that there were many new replacements who needed additional instruction before they could be sent on combat missions.

Other JG had fewer operational pilots on that same date: JG 3 had 67, JG 26 had 71, JG 27 had 64. These numbers explain why Osterkamp (see previous post) put the strength of a JG at 75 for his calculations concerning air cover over the invasion beaches.
"The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man's observation, not overturning it." Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

Knouterer
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Re: Operation Sealion - RAF and Luftwaffe Plans & Preparations

Postby Knouterer » 18 Mar 2017 12:04

A (fragment of) a map from Vol. 4/I of the abovementioned work, a bit overloaded with info perhaps but it shows how by the end of August not just the Stukas of Fliegerkorps VIII but (almost) all the fighter units as well had been assigned to Luftflotte 2 and moved closer to the Pas de Calais area.

It also shows how limited the (practical) range of the Bf 109 was.
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"The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man's observation, not overturning it." Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

Knouterer
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Re: Operation Sealion - RAF and Luftwaffe Plans & Preparations

Postby Knouterer » 20 Mar 2017 11:24

Robin Prior's When Britain Saved the West (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0300166621/ ... _dp_review ) is a useful account of the period. However I came across a statement which perhaps bears correction, as it is fairly central to the author's analysis of the Battle of Britain, namely on page 234: "If we examine those days during the battle when the Germans managed to fly over 1,000 sorties, we find they only amounted to eight days out of 113 - on 13, 14, 15, 16, 30 August and 7, 8, 30 September." As appears from the accompanying table from the abovementioned Volume 4/I of Die Jagdfliegerverbände der Deutschen Luftwaffe 1934 bis 1945, those were the days (more or less ...) when the number of fighter sorties exceeded 1,000; taking bombers and fighters together, the number of sorties was over 1,000 on nine days in August, nine days in Sept. and four days in October by my count. That being said, I still have to agree with the author's conclusion that the Luftwaffe was just to small to accomplish the tasks it had been set.

This table is really interesting; the first column shows the number of sorties or combat missions flown by fighters (Bf 109 and Bf 110), the second the bomber sorties by day and the third the bomber sorties by night. The next two column are the British estimates of LW sorties by day and by night. The next columns show the number of sorties flown by Fighter Command by day, the number of aircraft that made contact with the enemy (Feindberührung), and finally the number of sorties flown by night.

In the popular imagination, and in a fair number of books and movies, the pilots of FC took off day after day during a long unbroken string of glorious summer days to do battle against overwhelming odds. While that certainly happened on a number of occasions, this table shows that there were also many days when FC flew (almost) as many sorties as the Luftwaffe, and also that on many days there was relatively little activity due to bad weather. It also shows how after the big air battle on 15 Sept. (BoB day) the emphasis shifted to night bombing and that during the day bombers flew with very strong escorts, up to five fighters per bomber, as per Göring's orders.
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"The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man's observation, not overturning it." Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

Knouterer
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Re: Operation Sealion - RAF and Luftwaffe Plans & Preparations

Postby Knouterer » 25 Mar 2017 11:35

According to the above table, on the 22nd of September the Luftwaffe flew 44 (fighters) plus 43 (bombers by day) plus 143 (bombers by night) combat missions, makes 230.
Fighter Command flew 158 by day plus 45 by night. Comparison with the report on RAF activity on the previous page shows that on this day the British sent almost as many bombers across as the Germans: not much activity during the day, but at night Coastal Command sent 26 aircraft to bomb and lay mines, while Bomber Command sent 14 Whitleys all the way to Berlin and Dresden while 96 Wellingtons, Blenheims and Hampdens attacked Channel ports.
"The true spirit of conversation consists in building on another man's observation, not overturning it." Edward George Bulwer-Lytton


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