Fighter Command suffers its heaviest losses. Airfields in the south and south-east raided.
Night: Liverpool once again the main target with lesser attacks covering the north-east coast to Plymouth.
Weather: Mainly fair with haze over the Thames Estuary and Dover Straits.
The odds were weighted even more heavily against Fighter Command on this Saturday and its losses were the heaviest of the whole battle — thirty-nine fighters shot down with fourteen pilots killed. The Germans almost achieved parity, as they lost forty-one aircraft in the whole twenty-four-hour period.
Raiding began at 0800 hours with waves coming in over Kent and the Estuary, Bf 109s amusing themselves shooting down all the Dover balloons both land and water based. Once again airfields such as North Weald, Duxford and Debden were the main targets. Debden received about one hundred high-explosive and incendiary bombs from a formation of Dorniers, the sick quarters and barrack block receiving direct hits and other buildings being damaged. The operations rooms continued, however, to operate right through the attack. The raid steering for Duxford was intercepted by 111 Squadron from Croydon and did not reach its target.
Less than an hour later over 100 machines advanced from Calais and concentrated on Eastchurch where the airfield remained serviceable despite cratering and damage to buildings. Detling received a heavy quota of machine-gun bullets but no bombs.
The third attack, which began soon after noon, was to be the most serious of the day. Over 100 aircraft crossed the coast at Dungeness and flew up two clearly defined corridors.
One section attacked Croydon and Biggin Hill. At the former airfield twelve bombers came in at 2,000 feet demolishing a hangar, damaging other buildings and causing casualties. At Biggin Hill the bombing came from high altitude and to the long-suffering occupants of the airfield it seemed that they must be the A1 priority target for the whole Luftwaffe. Further extensive damage was done to hangars and buildings, the married quarters and officers’ mess were bombed and the operations block received a direct hit, extinguishing the lights and filling the rooms with acrid fumes, dust and smoke from the fires which broke out. The temporary telephone lines and power cables put in after the raid on the 30th were destroyed.
At 1835 hours Kenley aerodrome advised the Observer centre at Bromley that all lines to Biggin Hill were dead and that the frequency and call-signs of Biggin’s 72 and 79 Squadrons were urgently required. Lines from Bromley to Biggin Hill were also found to be out of action, and finally a despatch-rider had to be sent to get the information.
The raiders approaching up the second air corridor over Dungeness headed for Hornchurch, and there they caught 54 Squadron in the act of taking off. Two sections got airborne but the last was blown into the air by explosions. One machine was hurled into a field, another was thrown across the airfield to land on its belly, while the third, piloted by Flight Lieutenant Deere, was blown upside down. Miraculously all three pilots emerged shaken but uninjured and were back on operations the following morning. The thirty Dorniers involved dropped about 100 bombs which left a string of craters and cut the main power cable. Four Do 17s were shot down.
During the course of these sorties, other German aircraft made a sharp attack on coastal radar stations, damaging Pevensey, Dunkirk, Rye, Foreness, Whitstable and Beachy Head C.H.s. The advantage was not, however, pressed home and the stations were left to recuperate.
The fourth and last attack of the day was delivered at 1730 hours by several groups of Ju 88s and bomb-carrying Bf 110s which cratered runways and perimeter tracks, particularly at Hornchurch, where two more Spitfires were destroyed on the ground. Both Hornchurch and Biggin Hill were serviceable again the following morning.
Excerpt from The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood & Derek Dempster
Airmen: 21 | Aircraft: 39
Airmen: 9 | Aircraft: 41
Hurricane L1830, No. 253 Squadron
S/L H.M. Starr killed. Shot down by Bf 109s. Died beside crashed aircraft in brickworks at Eastry.
Spitfire R6912, No. 19 Squadron
P/O R.A.C. Aeberhardt killed. Crashed and burnt out on landing after flaps were damaged in combat.
Hurricane V7378, No. 56 Squadron
F/L P.S. Weaver listed as missing. Crashed into River Blackwater after being hit by Bf 109 gunfire.
Hurricane P3175, No. 257 Squadron
P/O G.H. Maffett killed. Engaged in combat and shot down by Bf 110. Aircraft crashed at Walton-on-Naze.
Hurricane P3159, No. 310 Squadron
P/O J. Sterbacek listed as missing. Shot down by Bf 109 while attacking a Do 215.
Hurricane R4215, No. 601 Squadron
F/O M.D. Doulton listed as missing. Shot down by Bf 109 and crashed into sea.
Hurricane V7200, No. 79 Squadron
Sgt H.A. Bolton killed. Crashed making forced landing with battle damage after combat action.
Spitfire X4273, No. 603 Squadron
F/O R McG Waterston killed. Shot down by Bf 109 and aircraft broke up before crashing in Woolwhich.
Spitfire P9457, No. 72 Squadron
F/O E.J. Wilcox killed. Shot down by enemy aircraft over Dungeness.
- Dornier Do 17Z-3 W.Nr. 2669 of 4./KG 3 burning itself out after crash-landing at Princes Golf Club on Sandwich Flats, near Ramsgate, following an attack on Hornchurch, 31 August 1940. © IWM (FX 68707)
- Bf 109E-3 W.Nr. 1184 flown by Oblt. Wilhelm Fronhoefer of 9./JG 26 was shot down by P/O C.F. Gray of No. 54 Squadron during a bomber escort sortie to Hornchurch on 31 August 1940. Fronhoefer crash-landed at Ulcombe in Kent and was captured unhurt.
- Air cadets and civilians examine the dinghy from a shot-down Junkers Ju 88 on display at Wood Green in London, 31 August 1940. © IWM (HU 104731)