Heavy damage to Fighter Command airfields following four major attacks.
Night: Liverpool attacked again. Smaller raids in the Midlands and South Wales.
Weather: Fair with cloudy patches during the morning, clearing during the afternoon.
As September opened, a Fighter Command diarist noted that ‘the month of August saw the beginning of a war of attrition’. Dowding’s forces were now suffering from accumulated fatigue and the mounting losses in pilots. The Luftwaffe was continuing its time-table concentration on sector airfields, many of which looked on the surface to be complete wrecks: it had become a question of just how long the organisation and the squadrons could continue to operate under continuous bombardment.
During the day, which was warm and sunny, four major attacks developed and these were aimed at Fighter Command airfields. Some 450 aircraft of Luftflotte 2 took part. The first signs of activity came at 1015 hours when radar plotted raids of 20 +, 30 +, and 12 + forming up over the French coast. Once assembled this force became eleven formations, totalling 120 machines, which flew over Dover and split up to attack Biggin Hill, Eastchurch, Detling and Tilbury Docks. Fourteen and a half Fighter Squadrons were sent up to meet them.
For Biggin Hill it was the sixth raid in three days. No. 610 Squadron had been ordered to Acklington for a rest, but the ground crews were waiting to embus on the north side, and they smartly took cover in the woods, despite the exhortations of an over-zealous officer brandishing a revolver. One pilot of 610, who had been waiting for a final check on his machine, watched from a shelter as his Spitfire blew up.
The small formation of Dorniers in this action bombed from 12,000 feet and pitted the runways with craters, rendering the airfield unserviceable until the afternoon. No. 79 Squadron’s Hurricanes, returning from the fray, were forced to land at Croydon.
At 1300 hours the usual signs of aircraft taking-off behind Calais were recorded by the gun-laying radar at Dover, and shortly afterwards the C.H. radar reported a concentration of approximately 150 + aircraft over Cap Gris Nez. These followed the same course as the morning raid and headed for the same targets.
The third and fourth attacks in the late afternoon were launched simultaneously, one mixed formation of fifty aircraft bombing Hawkinge and Lympne and another fifty raiding Detling and firing on the Dover balloon barrage. Small formations split off and one of these, consisting of Dorniers, headed for Biggin Hill where it was now realised that 6 p.m. was the regular allotted time for the last daylight Luftwaffe visitation.
The runways were again hit, but, far more serious, the sector operations room was reduced to a shambles, all lines except one out of 13 being severed, and the Defence Teleprinter Network wrecked by a 500 lb. bomb which bounced off a steel safe. Two W.A.A.F. telephone operators, Sergeant Helen Turner and Corporal Elspeth Henderson, worked on until the last moment and then flung themselves flat in time to avoid flying steel, glass and blast. Both received the Military Medal for bravery.
When the crew crawled out of the remains of sector operations they found that four Spitfires had been destroyed, and the armoury was on fire.
First priority was to get the operations room reestablished in some form, and here the Post Office engineers came to the rescue. On the night of the 30th the main London-Biggin Hill-Westerham telephone cable had been cut by bombs north of the airfield. The station Post Office maintenance officer, although blown out of a slit trench himself, had made his way through the raid and had got a message to Tunbridge Wells maintenance control. An inspector and six men volunteered to repair the cable, and despite warnings from the Sevenoaks police that an air raid was still in progress they reached the crater after darkness had fallen.
Nothing could be done until dawn due to the presence of both gas and water in the crater. On September 1st the party started work. Despite the morning attack, the effects of coal-gas fumes and lack of food and drink they got the cable restored in seven hours.
Before they had finished, however, the operations room had been smashed, and every G.P.O. engineer was needed to get an emergency set-up working in a village shop. Within an hour some measure of control was once more at the disposal of Biggin Hill Sector, and working through the night, the engineers had by the following day rigged two new switch-boards and restored the telephone services. Meanwhile, the main cable was again severed, but the tireless engineers repaired it and reconnected several Observer posts which had lost their communications.
In daylight on the 1st. Fighter Command sent up 147 patrols involving 700 machines, and suffered fifteen aircraft casualties from which nine pilots were saved. The Luftwaffe reported the loss of fourteen aircraft including night operations which for the first time gave them an advantage on the score card.
Excerpt from The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood & Derek Dempster
Airmen: 15 | Aircraft: 16
Airmen: 6 | Aircraft: 13
Spitfire P9458, No. 72 Squadron
F/O O.St J. Pigg killed. Failed to bale out after his aircraft was shot down during combat with Bf 109s.
Hurricane P3276, No. 1 Squadron
F/Sgt F.G. Berry killed. Shot down by Bf 109s during combat action over Kent.
Hurricane P5185, No. 253 Squadron
P/O J.K.G. Clifton killed. Shot down in combat with Do 215 and Bf 110s. Failed to bale out.
Hurricane L2071, No. 85 Squadron
Sgt. G.B. Booth died of injuries 7-2-1941. Baled out of burning aircraft but burnt parachute failed to open.
Hurricane P2673, No. 85 Squadron
Sgt. J.H.M. Ellis listed as missing. Last seen in combat with Bf 109s. Failed to return to base.
Hurricane P3150, No. 85 Squadron
F/O P.P. Woods-Scawen killed. Shot down by Bf 109, baled out but parachute failed to open.
- A Supermarine Spitfire Mk I of No. 19 Squadron being re-armed between sorties at Fowlmere, near Duxford, September 1940. © IWM (CH 1367)
- Dornier Do 17Z bombers of Kampfgeschwader 3, September 1940. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-343-0679-14A / Gentsch / CC-BY-SA 3.0.
- Sergeant Joan E Mortimer, Flight Officer Elspeth C Henderson and Sergeant Helen E Turner, recipients of the Military Medal for gallantry, standing outside damaged buildings at Biggin Hill, Kent. All three were WAAF teleprinter operators who stayed at their posts and continued to work the defence lines during the heavy Luftwaffe attacks on Biggin Hill on 1 September 1940. © IWM (CH 1550)