The Heinkel III, mainstay of the German bomber fleet, in flight, September 1940.

After German boasts that Berlin was too well protected to be bombed, there was shock when the RAF did hit the German capital for the first time on August 25th. The raid, and those on subsequent nights, provoked a significant change in strategy in the air offensive against Britain.

Until now the bombing had been confined to broadly military targets, with the emphasis on airfields and aircraft factories. Hitler had expressly forbidden ‘Terror raids’ on Britain or the bombing of London. He had long hoped that he could somehow arrange a peace with Britain, its conquest had never been part of his long term objectives, he really wanted to turn his attention East.

The prolonged air battles were not bringing the RAF to heel. Perhaps general bombing of the civilian population might produce a less obstinate Britain.

This was not the whole story – the Nazi regime also felt compelled to simply respond to the insult of having its own heartland bombed, as Hitler made abundantly clear in his speech of 4th September:

It is a wonderful thing to see our nation at war, in its fully disciplined state. This is exactly what we are experiencing at this time, as Mr Churchill is demonstrating to us the aerial night attacks he has concocted. He is not doing this because these air raids might be particularly effective, but because his Air Force cannot fly over German territory in daylight.

Whereas German aviators and German planes fly over English soil daily, there is hardly a single Englishman who comes across the North Sea in daytime. They therefore come during the night – and as you know, release their bombs indiscriminately and without any plan on to residential areas, farmhouses and villages. Wherever they see a sign of light, a bomb is dropped on it.

For three months past, I have not ordered any answer to be given; thinking that they would stop this nonsensical behaviour. Mr Churchill has taken this to be a sign of our weakness.

You will understand that we shall now give a reply, night for night, and with increasing force. And if the British Air Force drops two, three or four thousand kilos of bombs, then we will drop 150,000, 180,000, 230,000, 300,000 or 400,000 kilos, or more, in one night. If they declare that they will attack our cities on a large scale, we will erase theirs! We will put a stop to the game of these night-pirates, as God is our witness.

The hour will come when one or the other will crumble, and that one will not be National Socialist Germany. I have already carried through such a struggle once in my life, up to the final consequences, and this then led to the collapse of the enemy who is now sitting these in England on Europe’s last island.

German newsreel footage of Heinkel III bomber fleet engaging with RAF fighters over Britain:

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Spitfire versus Messerschmitt

Spitfires in flight: relatively rare contemporary British image

Then, just below me and to my left, I saw what I had been praying for – a Messerschmitt climbing and away from the sun. I closed in to 200 yards, and from slightly to one side gave him a two-second burst: fabric ripped off the wing and black smoke poured from the engine, but he did not go down. Like a fool, I did not break away, but put in another three-second burst. Red flames shot upwards and he spiralled out of sight.




HMS Sturgeon torpedoes a troopship

The commander of a Royal Navy submarine at the periscope as he prepares to launch torpedoes.

We waited in dead silence, our eyes fixed on the minute hand of the control-room clock. It seemed to creep round the dial. One minute went by, then two, and my doubts and uncertainties began to grow agonizing. I strained my ears for a distant sound, but heard only the hum and tick-tock of the gyro near the helmsman, the faint noises of the sea outside the hull, and the glug- glug of the ballast tanks as we kept our depth.




The ‘year of torments’ in Poland

The Kutno Ghetto 1940

In this year of torments, Polish Jewry has been destroyed. Its property and holdings were confiscated; all sources of income were blocked; its ancient communities were uprooted and exiled; its cemeteries are piles of rubble; its human rights have been erased and annulled; its lives are worthless. Imprisoned, subjugated, and mummified in the narrow confines of ghettos, it is declining to the lowest level of human survival.




303 (Polish) Squadron’s first combat patrol

An Me 109 that just made the coast of France. 303 Squadron shot down six in under an hour on their first combat patrol.

‘A’ Flight, at 16,000 ft east of Biggin Hill, saw about 60 Dorniers going east, protected by fighters. The bombers were in tight vics with sections of Me109s circling around them. Some fighters were covering them above. ‘A’ Flight attacked out of the sun and took enemy escorts by surprise. Each of our pilots selected one Me109 and six dogfights took place.




British fleet sails into the Mediterranean

The aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal with Fairey Swordfish torpedo planes from No. 820 Squadron Fleet Air Arm.

‘Operation Hats’ consisted of the aircraft carriers HMS Ark Royal and HMS Illustrious with the battle cruiser HMS Renown and the battleship HMS Valiant supported by three cruisers and seventeen destroyers. For the first time the fleet was defended by all round radar, based on four ships covering different sectors. Although the fleet was spotted by Italian aircraft, the Italian Navy did not attempt an engagement.




The Luftwaffe start to change tactics

The Hampden carried up to 4000 lbs  (1814 kg) of bombs

No short-range dive-bombers were seen, while last week 83 were destroyed; even the Ju. 88 has not been used for dive-bombing. The long-range bomber force is being increasingly employed and night attacks have been intensified. The raids were mainly directed against aerodromes and ports, while industrial plants and the aircraft industry also received considerable attention. Other raids were carried out against aerodromes and oil storage, and a considerable amount of indiscriminate bombing was included in the operations.




Churchill visits ‘Hell-Fire Corner’

Winston Churchill viewing activity in the Channel from an observation post at Dover Castle during his tour of defences, 28 August 1940. Enemy air attacks were in progress at the time, and two German bombers were seen to crash into the sea.

Later that afternoon, we had to drive to Ramsgate and on the way we saw a smoldering aircraft in a field, and Churchill asked the driver to pull off the road and get as close to the wreckage as he could. There was firemen, soldiers and ARP men standing around and I walked with the Prime Minister towards the aircraft. Even though I warned Mr Churchill about the dangers of being out in the open during an air raid, he said that he must have a look, and when he saw the tangled mess he said ‘Dear God, I hope it isn’t a British plane.’ He was reassured that it was not.




RAF Ace ‘Sailor’ Malan’s Ten Rules for Air Combat

Still from gun camera film shot by Flight Lieutenant A G "Sailor" Malan, leader of 'A' Flight, No. 74 Squadron RAF, recording his first aerial victory, a Heinkel He 111 over Dunkirk. Although debris and billowing smoke issue from the Heinkel's starboard engine and the starboard undercarriage has dropped, Malan's claim was categorised as unconfirmed since he did not observe the aircraft's destruction. 'A' Flight was based at Hornchurch but was flying out of Rochford at this time in order to shorten the patrol range to France. By the end of July 1941, Malan had achieved a total of 27 and seven shared confirmed victories, and two and one shared unconfirmed victories to become the highest scoring pilot of the war in Fighter Command.


Wait until you see the whites of his eyes. Fire short bursts of one to two seconds only when your sights are definitely “ON”.

Whilst shooting think of nothing else, brace the whole of your body: have both hands on the stick: concentrate on your ring sight.

Always keep a sharp lookout. “Keep your finger out”.




Hurricanes attack bombers head on

Hawker Hurricanes of No. 85 Squadron RAF, October 1940.

Ease the throttle to reduce the closing speed – which anyway allowed only a few seconds’ fire. Get a bead on them right away, hold it, and never mind the streams of tracer darting overhead. Just keep on pressing on the button until you think you’re going to collide – then stick hard forward. Under the shock of ‘negative G’ your stomach jumps into your mouth, dust and muck fly up from the cockpit floor into your eyes and your head cracks on the roof as you break away below.