Day bombing switched to London with a heavy attack on the capital.
Night: Raids on London continue from dusk till dawn. Main objectives are the East End and Docks.
Weather: Fair with some haze.
Göring decided personally to command the assault against London, and accordingly his immaculate personal train with its cooks, telephones and stocks of wine rolled north-west to the Pas de Calais. At Cap Gris Nez the entourage of field marshals, generals and colonels took their stand while the Reichsmarschall gazed skyward through his binoculars waiting for the passing of his aerial armada.
Every available fighter was being used, and bombers in far greater force than hitherto. The targets lay in East London, on the banks of the Thames, among the docks and warehouses.
Fighter Command had plenty on its mind when at 1600 hours the radar stations picked up several formations of twenty + over Calais. It was presumed they would adopt the usual tactics of crossing the coast and splitting up straightaway. Gradually it was realised at Bentley Priory that this was no ordinary raid. Over 300 bombers with 600 Bf 109s and Bf 110s in attendance, stepped up in solid layers, crossed the coast in two waves. The first flew direct to the Estuary and the second, an hour later, passed over central London, then steered back over the Estuary and the East End.
It was too late to alter the carefully prepared dispositions of the fighter squadrons, and as a result many bombers were not attacked until after they had delivered their loads. The sector stations were being well covered, but the road to London was clear. The 11 Group controller got everything he could vector on to the advancing phalanx, but it was in penny numbers compared with the solid masses of the Luftwaffe.
Despite interception by four fighter squadrons and heavy anti-aircraft fire, the bombers of both waves made determined efforts to keep formation. High on the top of the Senate House, London University, the central London Observer post K.1 had a bird’s-eye view of the attack and passed plots as fast as the operations room could take them.
Bombs rained down upon the London docks, the oil-tanks at Cliffe and Thameshaven, Beckton gasworks, and on Poplar, Woolwich, Millwall, Limehouse, Tower Bridge, Tottenham, West Ham, Barking and Croydon. Silvertown became a raging inferno and the fires raged on acting as a beacon for the night bombers, while in the little streets of the East End the inevitable pattern of death and destruction was beginning to unfold.
Rows of jerry-built terraced houses of the early Victorian era suddenly became heaps of tiles and rubble. Processions of bombed-out families—with a perambulator, a few bundles and the children clinging on for dear life—threaded their way through the glass and debris. Wardens, firemen and a host of others dug in the ruins searching for the injured. London’s testing time had begun, and like the pilots, ground staff and WAAFs of the RAF, the city was not found wanting. In curious irony it was a quarter of a century before, on September 8th, 1915, that Zeppelins had made their first big raid on London.
Many of the raiders did not fare so well as their companions who had a clear run over the City. The 12 Group wing at Duxford had been practising their formation techniques, and had Leigh-Mallory’s blessing to operate en masse. No. 242 Squadron which led the wing had a bitter fight with a large formation of Dorniers and Messerschmitts and shot down several, although the remaining two squadrons — 19 and 310 — could not gain height in time to join in.
The most successful of the units operating on the 7th was No. 303, the Polish squadron from Northolt. When the Poles came into the battle they found forty Dorniers at 20,000 feet with a formation of Bf 110s above and behind, and further back still, at over 25,000 feet, were the Bf 109s. The engagement was a first-class piece of the kind of co-operation Park wanted. A squadron of Spitfires took on the 109s, while a Hurricane squadron attacked the rear of the bombers forcing them to turn back. At this juncture the Poles waded in, turning their whole unit broadside on to the enemy.
They dived 4,000 feet out of the sun, each pilot selecting a victim. The squadron commander, Squadron Leader R. G. Kellett, reported afterwards: ‘We gave them all we’d got, opening fire at 450 yards and only breaking away when we could see the enemy completely filling the gunsight. That means we finished the attack at point-blank range. We went in practically in one straight line, all of us blazing away.’ Nearly a quarter of the bombers were destroyed or badly damaged.
While the day had been a frustrating one for Fighter Command with London heavily bombed and nineteen pilots lost out of twenty-eight fighters shot down, they could show forty-one German aircraft destroyed during the whole day—a not inconsiderable total which led the German radio to report that the attack had entailed ‘heavy sacrifices’.
Many returning fighter and bomber pilots reported little or no opposition, and for one day at least the Luftwaffe operations and intelligence staff believed that their aim of destroying Fighter Command was nearly achieved.
Excerpt from The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood & Derek Dempster
Airmen: 52 | Aircraft: 41
Airmen: 16 | Aircraft: 25
Spitfire P9560, No. 54 Squadron
F/O D.J. Saunders killed. Crashed during low altitude training practice flight.
Spitfire R6901, No. 54 Squadron
P/O W. Krepski listed as missing. Believed crashed into sea during operational flight.
Blenheim L6684, No. 600 Squadron
Sgt A.F.C. Saunders killed.
Sgt J.W. Davies killed.
Crashed due to engine failure during landing approach.
Hurricane V6641, No. 43 Squadron
S/L C.B. Hull killed. Shot down in combat with Bf 109 and crashed in grounds of Purley High School.
Hurricane V7257, No. 43 Squadron
F/L R.C. Reynell killed. Baled out after being shot down by Bf 109. Died on landing.
Hurricane R4114, No. 249 Squadron
P/O R.D.S. Fleming killed. Shot down by Bf 109s during combat operations.
Hurricane P3234, No. 73 Squadron
Fl/L R.E. Lovett killed. Shot down by enemy aircraft during combat operations.
Hurricane L1615, No. 504 Squadron
F/O K.V. Wendel died of injuries. Shot down over Estuary but crashed in flames at Faversham.
Hurricane P3049, No. 257 Squadron
Fl/L H.R.A. Beresford killed. Aircraft crashed on Isle of Sheppey. Pilots remains unearthed.
Spitfire N3198, No. 602 Squadron
F/O W.H. Coverley died of injuries. Shot down by E/A and crashed in flames. Pilot baled out with severe burns.
Hurricane V7254, No. 257 Squadron
F/O L.R.G. Mitchell listed as missing. Last seen in action in combat. Believed crashed into sea.
Spitfire X4256, No. 602 Squadron
P/O H.W. Moody listed as missing. Failed to return to base after combat operation.
Spitfire P9466, No. 234 Squadron
S/L J.S. O’Brien killed. Shot down by enemy aircraft and crashed near Biggin Hill.
Spitfire X4009, No. 234 Squadron
Fl/L P.C. Hughes killed. Believed crashed into Do 17 wreckage after he shot it during combat.
- Armourers replenish the ammunition in Hawker Hurricane Mark I, P3143 ‘NN-D’, of No. 310 (Czechoslovak) Squadron at RAF Duxford, 7 September 1940. © IWM (CH 1297)
- A Heinkel He 111 bomber flying over the Isle of Dogs in the East End of London, at the start of the Luftwaffe’s evening raids of 7 September 1940.
- Two Dornier 17 bombers flying over the Plumstead sewer bank, Crossness pumping station and the Royal Arsenal butts on Saturday 7 September 1940, the first day of the sustained Blitz on London.
- Two German Dornier 17 bombers over West Ham in London during a raid on the first day of the Blitz, 7 September 1940.
- Smoke rising from fires in the London docks following bombing on 7 September 1940.
- The effects of a large concentrated attack by the Luftwaffe on London dock and industry districts on 7 September 1940. Factories and storehouses were seriously damaged; the mills at the Royal Victoria Dock (below left) show damage wrought by fire.
- A still from camera-gun film taken from a Supermarine Spitfire Mark I of No. 609 Squadron RAF, flown by Flying Officer Tadeusz “Novi” Nowierski (formerly Polish Air Force) as he closes in on a formation of Dornier Do 17Zs of KG 3 south-west of London at approximately 5.45 pm on 7 September 1940, the first day of the Blitz. Tracer bullets from the intercepting Spitfires can be seen traveling towards the enemy aircraft which were heading back to their base after bombing East London and the docks. © IWM (CH 1820)
- Fires light up the docks along the River Thames on 7 September 1940 and bring into vivid relief the merchant ships lying alongside the many docks which line London’s busy port.
- One of many fires started in the Surrey Commercial Docks on 7 September 1940 after a heavy raid during the night by German bombers.