Heavy attacks on London, broken up by Fighter Command. Highest German losses since 18 August [185 claimed by the RAF] force a serious rethink by the German High Command.
Night: Heavy damage to London.
Weather: Fair with some cloud patches. Fine during the evening.
Now celebrated annually as Battle of Britain Day, Sunday the 15th was remarkable for its ultimate change of German policy and not for its heavy losses, as the 185 German aircraft claimed would lead many to believe.
The weather was misty but promised to be fine and the chance had come for a heavy blow against London which would show once and for all the desperate state of Fighter Command, and perhaps have a decisive effect on British morale. It was to be a repeat of September 7th in German eyes, and a lead-in to invasion.
The usual reconnaissance aircraft patrolled the east and south coasts during the morning, one of which, an He 111, was shot down off Start Point.
At eleven o’clock radar showed mass formations building up over Calais and Boulogne. No. 11 Group put up eleven squadrons, 10 Group one, while No. 12 Group sent five squadrons as a wing to patrol Debden-Hornchurch. No real feints developed and complete attention was devoted to the advancing armadas. The stupidity of large formations sorting themselves out in full view of British radar was not yet realised by the Luftwaffe.
All the way up from the coast, the raids stepped up from 15,000–26,000 feet were constantly under attack, first by two Spitfire squadrons over mid-Kent, next by three more over the Medway towns, then by four Hurricane squadrons over the suburbs of London, and finally by the Duxford wing from 12 Group over London itself. The wing on Leigh-Mallory’s instructions was now five squadrons strong. In all, twenty-four fighter squadrons operated and twenty-two engaged the enemy.
Accurate bombing was out of the question, and as formations broke so they scattered their, loads on Beckenham, Westminster, Lambeth, Lewisham, Battersea, Camberwell, Crystal Palace, Clapham, Tooting, Wandsworth and Kensington. A heavy bomb damaged the Queen’s private apartments in Buckingham Palace, while a second fell on the lawn.
The 609 Squadron diarist recorded that one portion of a Dornier they destroyed during the engagement ‘is reported to have reached the ground just outside a Pimlico public house to the great comfort and joy of the patrons’.
No. 504 Squadron had a busy morning. At 11 a.m. Generals Strong and Emmons of the U.S. Army Air Corps and Rear-Admiral Gormley of the U.S. Navy paid a visit to see ‘the life of a fighter squadron’. No sooner had introductions been completed than an attack developed with the squadron to patrol North Weald at 15,000 feet. Using a stopwatch, the Americans recorded that twelve Hurricanes got away in 4 min. 50 sec. from the word ‘Go’. No. 504 met a formation of Dorniers between Fulham and Gravesend and shot down several. One pilot. Sergeant R. T. Holmes, attacked and damaged a Dornier, and then found another heading directly for Buckingham Palace. Holmes decided to ram the bomber after his machine guns failed, cutting off the rear tail section with his port wing and causing the Dornier to crash close to the forecourt of Victoria Station. Sergeant Holmes baled out of his badly damaged Hurricane and finally came to rest in a dustbin in Chelsea.
Before they could eat lunch the squadron was again engaged with German formations between London and Hornchurch.
After a two-hour break the second attack was seen by radar just after 1 p.m. and began to come in three waves an hour later. Squadrons were ready to receive them and a running fight took place all the way to the capital. Twenty-three squadrons from 11 Group were airborne, five from No. 12 Group and three from No. 10. Two formations were broken up before reaching London, one turning back in the face of a head-on attack by a lone Hurricane flown by Group Captain Vincent, commander of the Northolt sector.
The remaining bombers were engaged over the city itself by five pairs of squadrons from No. 11 Group and the full five-squadron wing of No. 12 Group. Two squadrons each from 10 and 11 Groups harried the enemy as they retired. Scattering of formations and frequent jettisoning of bombs caused hits over a very wide area in contrast to the concentration achieved on September 7th. West Ham and Erith were the main recipients but other targets were Woolwich, Stepney, Hackney, Stratford, Penge and East Ham—at the last mentioned a telephone exchange and a gasholder being smashed.
While every effort was being made to deal with the attack on London, a force of Heinkel 111s of KG 55 from the Villacoublay area set out to bomb Portland. Although seen by radar at three o’clock, the count was only given as six +. The raid detoured and approached Portland from an unusual angle which confused the A.A. gunners. The bombing was inaccurate and only slight damage was done in the dockyard. The one squadron left in the Middle Wallop sector succeeded in intercepting, but after the bombs had dropped.
The final daylight sortie came at about six o’clock when some twenty bomb-carrying Bf 110s from ErprGr 210 at Denain attempted to hit the Supermarine works at Woolston. They were heavily engaged by the Southampton guns as they dived in and this undoubtedly upset their aim as no bombs fell on the factory. Five RAF squadrons were put up, but most of them were unable to find their quarry, and those that did only encountered the Bf 110s as they were streaking for the safety of the French coast using any available cloud cover.
Families throughout the country listened in to the evening news bulletin and heard ‘185 shot down’. The figures became the sole topic of conversation and the nation glowed with pride. It. was a tremendous and much-needed tonic for civilians and RAF alike.
In the cold light of history the actual German losses of sixty machines make poor reading to the layman. In fact, for a force which had suffered a heavy loss rate for over two months they were extremely serious, not to mention the numerous aircraft which limped back to France with dead gunners, burned engines and broken undercarriages.
Hitler, Göring and the whole of the Luftwaffe Command had expected great things of the 15th. After the apparently successful efforts of the 12th it seemed that at long last the RAF was ready for the coup de grace. Instead the losses were higher than on any day since August 18th. At de-briefing bomber pilots complained of the incessant RAF attacks by squadrons that had long since ceased to exist—if the German radio and intelligence reports were to be believed.
Excerpt from The Narrow Margin by Derek Wood & Derek Dempster
Airmen: 93 | Aircraft: 61
Airmen: 16 | Aircraft: 31
Hurricane N2537, No. 229 Squadron
P/O G.L.D. Doutrepont killed. Crashed onto Staplehurst Railway Station after being shot down by Bf 109s.
Hurricane P3876, No. 1 RCAF Squadron
F/O R. Smither killed. Attacked and shot down by Bf 109. Pilot failed to bale out.
Hurricane P3865, No. 73 Squadron
P/O R.A. Marchand killed. Crashed into farm at Teynham after being shot down by Bf 109s.
Spitfire R6690, No. 609 Squadron
P/O G.N. Gaunt killed. Crashed in flames near Kenley after being hit by gunfire from Bf 110.
Spitfire P9324, No. 41 Squadron
P/O G.A. Langley killed. Crashed into building after being shot down by Bf 109s.
Hurricane P2760, No. 501 Squadron
P/O A.E.A von den Hove d’Ertsenrijck killed. Aircraft exploded in mid-air after hit by gunfire from Bf 109.
Hurricane N2481, No. 504 Squadron
P/O J.V. Gurteen killed. Shot down by enemy aircraft and crashed at full throttle into residential house.
Hurricane P2954, No. 302 Squadron
F/Lt T.P. Chlopik killed. Shot down by enemy aircraft. Baled out but died on landing.
Hurricane N2705, No. 504 Squadron
F/O M. Jebb died of injuries 19/9/40. Crashed at Dartford after combat with enemy aircraft.
Hurricane P2836, No. 238 Squadron
Sgt L. Pidd killed. Baled out after being shot down by enemy aircraft but was dead on landing.
Hurricane P3577, No. 303 Squadron
Sgt M. Brzezowski. Listed as missing. Believed crashed in Thames Estuary after combat with Bf 109s.
Spitfire X4324, No. 603 Squadron
F/O A.P. Pease killed. Shot down by Bf 109. Pilot did not bale out.
Spitfire X4070, No. 19 Squadron
Sgt J.A. Potter taken POW. Ditched damage aircraft off French coast and captured by German military.
Hurricane P3660, No. 56 Squadron
Sgt T.R. Tweed killed. Failed to come out of spin during dog fight practice over base.
- A Dornier Do 17Z bomber of KG 76 in flight, 1940. Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-341-0489-10A / Spieth / CC-BY-SA 3.0.
- F/Lt. Ken Gillies of No. 66 Squadron climbs into his Spitfire Mk I, R6800 LZ-N, at Gravesend, September 1940. © IWM (HU 104504)
- The final moments of Dornier Do 17Z-2 ‘F1+FH’ (Wk-Nr 2361) of 1.Staffel/KG 76, brought down by Sergeant Ray Holmes of No. 504 Hurricane Squadron on 15 September, 1940. Holmes decided to ram the bomber after his machine guns failed, cutting off the rear tail section with his port wing and causing the Do 17 to crash close to the forecourt of Victoria Station in central London. Holmes was forced to bail out of his badly damaged Hurricane, which crashed near the grounds of Buckingham Palace.
- Soldiers survey the carnage after a Dornier Do 17 bomber crashed onto the forecourt of Victoria Station following a mid-air collision with Sergeant Ray Holmes’ Hurricane on 15 September 1940 over central London. The shop of well-known clock supplier James Walker Ltd was badly damaged and a mass of mantel clocks are scattered across the pavement.
- The wreckage of the Hurricane that collided with a Dornier Do 17 bomber on 15 September 1940, is placed near Buckingham Palace Road in central London. The crater that contained the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine and other wreckage was simply filled in and covered over. In 2004, the engine was recovered during a televised archaeological dig in the presence of its former pilot, Sergeant Ray Holmes of No. 504 Squadron, who had bailed out of the aircraft after deliberately ramming the German bomber.
- The Duxford ‘Big Wing’ led by Squadron Leader Douglas Bader. © IWM (CH 1429)
- Dornier Do 17 F1+FS of 8.Staffel/KG 76 piloted by Feldwebel Rudolf Heitsch was part of a force of about 100 German bombers which approached London over North Kent shortly before noon on 15 September 1940. The formation was intercepted simultaneously by nine RAF Squadrons. The battle developed into a series of individual fights. During one of these encounters, Heitsch’s Dornier was attacked by Flying Officer John Dundas and Pilot Officer Eugene ‘Red’ Tobin of No. 609 Squadron. After a low-level chase, Heitsch was forced to bring his machine down in a field at Castle Farm, Shoreham, narrowly missing the high tension cables that ran over the field. The Dornier’s crew were taken prisoner by the local Home Guard. Heitsch and Feldwebel Pfeiffer, the observer, were uninjured. Feldwebel Sauter, the gunner, had been wounded in the ankle and was taken to Maidstone Hospital. Feldwebel Stephan Schmidt, the wireless operator, died of a chest wound before reaching hospital. The flame throwing device is just visible on the aft fuselage.
- RAF personnel dismantle Dornier Do 17 F1+FS of 8.Staffel/KG 76, shot down on 15 September 1940 at Castle Farm in Shoreham, near Sevenoaks in Kent. Stripped panels have been heaped in the foreground as the salvage crew – which appears to include civilians – continue their work. A trailer stands ready to the left of the starboard wing.