The Battle of Britain.

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Graeme Sydney
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The Battle of Britain.

Post by Graeme Sydney » 06 Mar 2010 23:30

The Battle of Britain was a definite turning point of WW2, and maybe the most significant. It was Germany's first defeat and lost Germany its only realistic opportunity to defeat Britain.

Was the Battle of Britain winnable for Germany?

Was there a definable turning point?

Was there a policy, stratergy, or tactic that Germany had to follow? Was it been identified and advocated at the time?

My knowledge of the Air War and the BofB is limited and I feel particularly lacking the insightful view of Air War 'professional'. I know it as a 'close run' affair and even argued today as to who 'won' the battle. I know there was criticism of the change in the German point of attack from the airdromes to attacks on the cities. But I don't know if that is factual and stands up to close scrutiny or if it is just 'Popular History', and easy explanation.

Cheers, thanks in anticipation, Graeme.

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Kingfish
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Re: The Battle of Britain.

Post by Kingfish » 07 Mar 2010 00:00

Graeme Sydney wrote: Was the Battle of Britain winnable for Germany?
The air battle perhaps, but I don't think the invasion would have fared well against the Royal navy, even with Luftwaffe in control of the air.

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phylo_roadking
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Re: The Battle of Britain.

Post by phylo_roadking » 07 Mar 2010 00:50

Was the Battle of Britain winnable for Germany?
In the long term - no.
Britian had a great "depth of field" detection ability for incoming raids courtesy of RDF, plus a cohesive network of ground-based observers to track raids once they had crossed the English coast...all feeding back to a command&control system that evaluated the incoming data, made command decisions, then "handed off" the fighting of each raid to a lower level in the chain - so the system didn't get clogged up with trying to make strategic AND tactical decisions.

It had a major advantage in its "Group" organisation that allowed squadrons in the most-affected group, Eleven Group in Kent and Sussex, to be rotated out to quieter Sectors if they were exhausted or too badly attrited. This WAS done on several occasions as necessary...tho'; admittedly Dowding didn't do it as often as he should have.

The UK was producing monoplane fighters 50% faster than the Germans were...3 for every 2 the Germans did in 1940 - AND they had significant advantages courtesy of the Civilian Repair Organisation that rebuilt damaged aircraft and returned them to front-line units by night, alongside new builds arriving from the major manufacturers and shadow factories.

As for pilots - yes, there were occasions when Fighter Command came close to running out of both experienced pilots and newly-qualified flyers with enough flying time....but unlike the Luftwaffe it DID have the Empire flying schools that started sending pilots to the UK in relative quantity by the end of the Battle. Likewise, the U.S. had started two training schemes, one for Army aircraft one for USN types, to train RAF pilots in handling American types that Britain was buying - reducing the workload of converting RAF pilots to type in the UK, freeing up extra training resource when needed most.

These were a whole series of advantages that Germany simply didn't enjoy; they had no external source of pilots in extremis, only what was coming out of the Luftwaffe's own schools at maximum rate. Ditto a lack of external supply of aircraft - all through the BoB the RAF was also busy rebuilding the Army Co-op squadrons that had been so badly attrited in the Battle of France, for example.

In the short term - yes, there were mistakes made by the RAF, and there were Sector stations close to the coast like Manston IIRC that took a LOT of damage at various times, and holes COULD be knocked temporarily in the RDF net....and at times the LW changed tactics to give them the advantage as well as tactic changes that caused them grief. moving to Me109 Jabos in the last weeks of the BoB for instance - but too little too late to change the outcome. You can't look at this through rose-tinted glasses - there WERE major defects in the RAF way of doing things, and mistakes made - aircraft flying through box formations when ordered not to - and suffering; RAF formations jumped from behind far too many times; squadrons not having time to get to height; Dowding not rotating enough Eleven Group squadrons to rest them fully; not using Twelve Group early enough or often enough...

Bu for sheer ability to maintain a protracted effective defence as compared to a protracted offense - the RAF had it over the Luftwaffe. Can I recommend Patick Bishop's Battle Of Britain: A Day to Day Chronology to you? It's a good condensed read, not SO overly detailed that you don't loose sight of both the major trends and the effects of individual events and episodes? After that - Alfred Price's The Hardest Day....and John Ray's The Battle Of Britain. Truly excellent books like the last two come into their own after reading a very good general history like Bishop's.

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phylo_roadking
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Re: The Battle of Britain.

Post by phylo_roadking » 07 Mar 2010 00:57

Was there a definable turning point?
There were several - both for and against the RAF; the change from the fighting over the Channel, when the LW tried to lure the RAF into fighting over the sea and be attrited ahead of the real air defence battle, to attacks directly on Fighter Command's ability to fight a battle - raids in strength against Eleven Group fields. The change from medium/high-level attacks to lower-level fast attacks on Fighter Command fields that they simply couldn't react in time to....THEN the change after only a few days of this to attacks on London when provoked - even though the new lower-level attacks showed distinct signs of weakening Eleven Group and forcing it back north of the Thames. The change to massed raids on the capital....THEN the change to raids on the capital by night that allowed Fighter Command to rebuild its dayfighting capability...

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Pips
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Re: The Battle of Britain.

Post by Pips » 07 Mar 2010 02:43

There has been a trend in the past decade by several historians to argue the POV that the Luftwaffe wasn't defeated by the RAF in it's daylight campaign. Rather the campaign was initially suspended due to the worsening weather conditions over winter and that the aerial campaign would have been renewed come spring 1941. However that didn't occur given Hitler's focus on the East.

The problem with that argument is that the Luftwaffe did continue it's bombing campaign against England throughout the winter of 1940 and into 1941 - but at night! The Blitz in fact.

The fact of the matter was that the Luftwaffe did suffer substantial losses in it's daylight campaign at the hands of the RAF, to the point that it could not continue with any hope of achieving a favourable outcome. It didn't have sufficient Bf-109's for escort and sweep duty, and what it did have couldn't complete the function of escorting to London and back with time to spare for fighting. That was why the Luftwaffe switched to night bombing. It was a sensible decision, but one that accepted that there would be no quick victory against England.

(At the end 1943 the USAAF found itself in the same position. It's losses were becoming prohibitive, the German day fighter force was stronger than ever and the Americans lacked a fighter capable of escorting bombers all the way to targets in Germany and back - with reserve to fight. So it halted it's day campaign (and restricted it to French targets) until sufficient P-51's were availabele in 1944 to renew to attack.)

Another trend to paint a picture of the Luftwaffe unbeaten and equal out losses during the BoB is to include Bomber Command losses as part of the overall comparison between RAF and Luftwaffe, which with that addition are very similar in number. The problem with that approach is that, while Bomber Command losses were real and heavy during the BoB period, they had almost no effect on the day battle. It's like an sleight of hand, but has no bearing on the day battle over Britain. Britain won the BoB through Fighter Command and it's support groups ie Observer Corps, AA etc. And it did win the Battle.

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phylo_roadking
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Re: The Battle of Britain.

Post by phylo_roadking » 07 Mar 2010 03:22

Was there a policy, stratergy, or tactic that Germany had to follow? Was it been identified and advocated at the time?
There's a very specific answer to this. The Luftwaffe were starting to bomb British targets within three weeks or so of the Armistice with France....but not as part of any planned campaign. Göring didn't have or organise ANY input to planning until a couple of days after Directive No.16 was issued - and THEN that meeting was more like a social weekend at Karin Hall 8O All planning for the air superiority battle was crammed into the next 3-4 weeks!

As for what the Luftwaffe had to do...it knew what RDF stations were - and hit them frequently after the start of the BoB in the middle of August - they just didn't appreciate the link between radar and ground-vectoring of intercepting aircraft :wink: They believed it only provided early warning...well, it DID, but it was what was done with that information on a real-time basis that was vital. Likewise it knew it had to do a number of things to gain air superiority -
1/ destroy RAF aircraft;
2/ render its larger Sector stations and dispersal airfields incapable of use;
3/ force the RAF to pull further and further back from the beaches;
4/ destroy the RAF's capacity to buld more aircraft.

Again - many mistakes were made; they frequently attacked Supermarine in Southampton - 5 or 6 times during the BoB dates IIRC...but didn't know about Castle Bromwich which was coming on-line :wink: They attacked aircraft factories at Brooklands - and hit the WELLINGTON production line thinking it was Hawker's Hurricane production facility there! They greatly overestimated the RAF's ground losses....LW Intelligence analysis was A/ legendarily cr@p and B/the British knew it from the first Bletchley Park decrypts of LW coded material; it was patchy through 1940, but gave them insights into the mistakes "Beppo" Schmid was making in Berlin.

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Tim Smith
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Re: The Battle of Britain.

Post by Tim Smith » 07 Mar 2010 12:22

Pips wrote: Another trend to paint a picture of the Luftwaffe unbeaten and equal out losses during the BoB is to include Bomber Command losses as part of the overall comparison between RAF and Luftwaffe, which with that addition are very similar in number. The problem with that approach is that, while Bomber Command losses were real and heavy during the BoB period, they had almost no effect on the day battle. It's like an sleight of hand, but has no bearing on the day battle over Britain. Britain won the BoB through Fighter Command and it's support groups ie Observer Corps, AA etc. And it did win the Battle.
Bomber Command did succeed in doing a fair amount of damage to the German invasion fleet in harbour. That effort was not wasted, since the Germans were very short of shipping for the invasion and couldn't afford to lose any before the invasion even started.

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LWD
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Re: The Battle of Britain.

Post by LWD » 08 Mar 2010 15:04

phylo_roadking wrote:
Was there a policy, stratergy, or tactic that Germany had to follow? Was it been identified and advocated at the time?
There's a very specific answer to this. The Luftwaffe were starting to bomb British targets within three weeks or so of the Armistice with France....but not as part of any planned campaign. ....
But even if they start then, given that Dowding was going to pull back 11 group if things got really bad how can the LW win if their criteria for winning is destroy the RAF?

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Re: The Battle of Britain.

Post by phylo_roadking » 08 Mar 2010 17:46

how can the LW win if their criteria for winning is destroy the RAF?
Because it wasn't :wink:

Directive No. 16, point 2(a) -
The English Air Force must be so reduced morally and physically that it is unable to deliver any significant attack against the German crossing
In other words - just local air superiority over the Channel and landing beaches.

And from the oft-neglected Directive No. 17, "For the conduct of air and sea warfare against England" -
1. The German Air Force is to overpower the English Air Force with all the forces at its command, in the shortest possible time. The attacks are to be directed primarily against flying units, their ground installation, and their supply organizations, but also against the aircraft industry, including that manufacturing anti-aircraft equipment.
2. After achieveing temporary or local air superiority the air war is to be continued against ports, in particular against stores of food, and also against stores of provisions in the interior of the country.


TWO things to note there -

1/ the bombing war against the RAF ends with doing enough of Point 1 to achieve temporary/local air superiority - and VERY interestingly

2/ look again at Point 1; as I noted before, the LW started a Douhet-style strategic bombing campaign by the end of June almost by default :wink: Here, on 1st August....they're being ordered away from that and into what WE would recognise as a counter-force battle.

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Re: The Battle of Britain.

Post by Gooner1 » 08 Mar 2010 18:02

Graeme Sydney wrote: Was there a definable turning point?
September 15th. The German switch to bombing London wrong-footed the RAF controllers and the Luftwaffe then enjoyed some of their best days of the campaign. The Luftwaffe took that as confirmation that the RAF was on its last legs so September 15 came as a nasty surprise.
Was the Battle of Britain winnable for Germany?
Only if different decisions had been made earlier IMO, and I don't mean by the Germans. It wasn't until November 1938 when Cabinet ordered top priority given to fighters - against RAF wishes - with maximum output to be attained by March 1940.

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Re: The Battle of Britain.

Post by phylo_roadking » 08 Mar 2010 20:24

It wasn't until November 1938 when Cabinet ordered top priority given to fighters - against RAF wishes - with maximum output to be attained by March 1940.
Maximum output, yes - but the Air Ministry's plans for aircraft production were different from Fighter Command's planned command&control system could only handle 740-750 aircraft in the ground-vectored defensive air battle (James, The Paladins, or Ray The Battle of Britain, can't remember which)) This was how it was so "easy" to make up their material losses of the Battle of france and the losses over Dunkirk before the second week of August :wink: and present a full defence. They only had to make up the holes knocked in the defence roster o squadrons/flights as opposed to getting the Command up to theoretical full strength.
- against RAF wishes -
Against the Air Ministry's wishes too - for it cocked up the Air Plan....and among other things resulted in no replacement for the Fairey Battle or Hampden, nightflying training for bomber crews only beginning in the spring of 1939, the RAF being short of multi-engined bomber-trainers - and THEN having to lend them to Coastal who were also short of airraft due to the moritorium!

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Re: The Battle of Britain.

Post by Graeme Sydney » 08 Mar 2010 22:27

Love ya work guys 8-) . Thanks. :D

I was quite right to suspect that there was a more interesting story to be had with a little insight and some reading. I'll try to chase up some of the references.

Am I right to suspect that there was no prior planning of any substance by any of the German staffs (for the air war, naval war for the crossing or the army's amphibious operation) before they arrived at the French coast - there was no 'next step' planned? (It might be said that the Battle of France was too successful.)

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Re: The Battle of Britain.

Post by phylo_roadking » 08 Mar 2010 22:59

Am I right to suspect that there was no prior planning of any substance by any of the German staffs (for the air war, naval war for the crossing or the army's amphibious operation)
For the air war against the UK - not much...that is, apart from the wanting to mount a Douhet-style air war (See the first 20 mins of Things to Come, the film version of H.G. Wells' book!) - the second half of the 1930s was the story of the long failure of the Luftwaffe to get its hands on an aircraft that could mount a strategic bombing campaign, and only starting again very late in peacetime with the development of the He177. For a good, readable history of the origins and development of the Luftwaffe as an instrument of war - see E.R. Hooton's Phoenix Triumphant.

As for planning an actual invasion by sea - we can be a lot more specific; Admiral Raeder was already doing preliminary planning in April 1940 :wink: Only a "blue sky" staff planning exercise, the sort of things staffs churn out for all possible contingencies...working out what transport assets were available, quay frontages vs loading times on French docksides, that sort of level....but suddenly he was THEN faced with actually having to do it :lol: And was not a happy bunny at the prospect, starting to throw spanners in the works -like the "only four surface units available" - as fast as he could grab them out of the toolbox! :P

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Re: The Battle of Britain.

Post by Gooner1 » 09 Mar 2010 11:06

phylo_roadking wrote: Maximum output, yes - but the Air Ministry's plans for aircraft production were different from Fighter Command's planned command&control system could only handle 740-750 aircraft in the ground-vectored defensive air battle (James, The Paladins, or Ray The Battle of Britain, can't remember which)) This was how it was so "easy" to make up their material losses of the Battle of france and the losses over Dunkirk before the second week of August :wink: and present a full defence. They only had to make up the holes knocked in the defence roster o squadrons/flights as opposed to getting the Command up to theoretical full strength.
Even under the revised Scheme M approved in November 1938 there was little prospect of Fighter Commands front-line fighter strength exceeding 750 by Spring 1940.
Against the Air Ministry's wishes too - for it cocked up the Air Plan....and among other things resulted in no replacement for the Fairey Battle or Hampden, nightflying training for bomber crews only beginning in the spring of 1939, the RAF being short of multi-engined bomber-trainers - and THEN having to lend them to Coastal who were also short of airraft due to the moritorium!
Which Air Plan? There was a whole series of air plans all of which, without exception, emphasised bombers and not fighters. Which was, I suppose, fair enough - to defend Britain from an air offensive launched from Germany 38 fighter squadrons was probably sufficient - and quite fitting with the government policy of 'Limited Liability' war.
The replacement bombers were to be the Stirling, Halifax and Manchester - none of which had yet flown. The typical foot-dragging of Chamberlain and his cronies may have delayed introduction of the heavy bombers but events overtook that and anyway technical difficulties were the prime cause of their slow arrival into service. As to the RAF being short of bomber trainers, I'm puzzled how that is the fault of Cabinet?

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Re: The Battle of Britain.

Post by phylo_roadking » 09 Mar 2010 18:00

Even under the revised Scheme M approved in November 1938 there was little prospect of Fighter Commands front-line fighter strength exceeding 750 by Spring 1940
That's my point - it didn't NEED to exceed 750 in service....just be able to replace losses once that maximum of 750 that Fighter Command could manage in the air at any one time over the UK Home Base went into action :wink:
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