Locals watch as troops and police inspect Messerschmitt Bf 109E-1 (W.Nr. 3367) "Red 14" of 2./JG52, which crash-landed in a wheatfield at Mays Farm, Selmeston, near Lewes in Sussex, 12 August 1940. Its pilot, Unteroffizier Leo Zaunbrecher, was captured.

Locals watch as troops and police inspect Messerschmitt Bf 109E-1 (W.Nr. 3367) “Red 14″ of 2./JG52, which crash-landed in a wheatfield at Mays Farm, Selmeston, near Lewes in Sussex, 12 August 1940. Its pilot, Unteroffizier Leo Zaunbrecher, was captured.

As the Luftwaffe steeped up their attacks they moved inland from the attacks on convoys in the English channel. Increasingly people living in the south east of Britain became witnesses to the conflict.

Hubert S. Banner describes how the air battle fascinated those watching below:

Enemy activity was steadily on the increase; for now we were well into the opening phases of the Battle of Britain. Air-raid warnings in our area [Tunbridge Wells] averaged twelve or thirteen a day, and seldom any longer were they false alarms.

Time after time we would hear the heavy rumble up among the clouds which betokened a formation of German bombers, and there you would spot them as they sailed across the intervening patches of blue sky, dainty and silvery like little moths in the August sunshine, with still tinier moths that were their protective fighters weaving in and out and making rings around them as well-trained dogs encircle a flock of sheep.

And then often would be added the sound of our intercepting aircraft as they came tearing across the sky to do battle. Faint bursts of machine-gun fire would reach our ears, and sometimes a shower of the ‘empties’ would descend upon us… to bounce off the roofs and rattle all over the streets, whereupon there would be a frenzied rush of children scrambling to fill their pockets…

There was a period when the pupils of the Maidstone Grammar School had to go over every foot of their football-ground before each game in order to clear it of splinters…

The red-letter days were, of course, those when the exchanges overhead produced visible results in the form of Nazi airmen floating to earth. First you would discern a white speck against the blue, apparently stationary. But the speck would grow larger until you could make out its unbrella-top shape, and then at last you would be able to see the minute figure dangling beneath.

And what a rush there would be in the direction of the spot where the figure seemed likely to descend. Sometimes there was more than one. On one memorable occasion I saw five on their way down simultaneously, and the difficulty then was to decide in which of the five directions to rush…

I saw my first Nazi at close quarters during those memorable days. My wife and I had just finished lunch when we were startled by a ‘zoom’ that ended in a loud crash. Rushing to the window, we saw a column of black smoke rising above the tree-tops, and a few moments later began a crackling fusillade that reminded one of the Fifth of November. ‘Machine-gun ammunition popping off in the bonfire,’ I decided.

We jumped into the car and drove towards the smoke and noise, and soon we were overtaking a throng of cyclists and pedestrians all heading in the same direction.

The scene of the crash was on a golf-course, and a good-sized crowd had arrived there before us… The German fighter-bomber had hit the tree-tops in its descent, and there it lay, sprawling broken-backed on the greensward… It was consuming rapidly in its own flames, and the empty cartridges-cases leaped out of the pyre in all directions. The police had formed a cordon. Sternly they ordered the mob to keep its distance, but the small boys were too much for them. They dived and ducked through the cordon singly and in dozens, cheerfully contemptuous of the awful penalties attached to interfering with captured enemy property…

Beneath the trees… lay the Nazi airman. A First-Aid Party was in attendance. Tender hands were bandaging his cut forehead and broken leg. He was silent now, but I learned afterwards that when first dragged from his burning ’plane he had made noise enough until one of the men saidto him: ‘Be a man and shut up, can’t you? You asked for it, and now you’ve got it.’ Not another squeak had come from him after that rebuke…

Meanwhile the police were examining his effects… They drew forth in turn a carton of Californian dried raisins, a large slab of Cadbury’s chocolate, and – crowning insult – a packet of twenty Gold Flake. Many of the men who had thus far kept silence could no longer restrain their feelings when they caught sight of those Gold Flakes. They might be able to forgive the German for having come over with the intention of blowing them to bits, but not for having brought with him cigarettes looted from our abandoned stores in France.

See Hubert S. Banner: Kentish Fire

Soldiers guarding a crash-landed Junkers Ju 88A-1 of Stab II/KG 54 at Portland Head in Dorset, shot down by a No. 213 Squadron Hurricane over Portland Harbour, 11 August 1940. The censor has obscured the background.

Soldiers guarding a crash-landed Junkers Ju 88A-1 of Stab II/KG 54 at Portland Head in Dorset, shot down by a No. 213 Squadron Hurricane over Portland Harbour, 11 August 1940. The censor has obscured the background.

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Aug

2

1940

RAF Fighter Squadrons prepare for battle

Spitfire Mark IA, X4474 ‘QV-I’, of No. 19 Squadron RAF, taking off from Fowlmere, Cambridgeshire, with Sergeant B J Jennings at the controls.

Dispersal pen and my Spitfire. I pause and look at her. A long shapely nose, not exactly arrogant but, nevertheless, daring anyone to take a swing at it. Lines beautifully proportioned, the aircraft sitting there, engine turning easily and smoothly with subdued power. The slipstream blows the moisture over the top of the wings in thin streamlets. Flashes of blue flame from the exhausts are easily seen in the half light, an occasional backfire and the whole aeroplane trembling like a thoroughbred at the start of the Derby.

Aug

1

1940

Hitler orders final Luftwaffe push against England

German 'Stuka' dive bomber pilots in France in 1940. They were suffering terrible losses when the RAF managed to break through their fighter cover and would soon be withdrawn from battle.

1. The German Air Force is to overpower the English Air Force with all the forces at its command, in the shortest time possible. The attacks are to be directed primarily against flying units, their ground installations, and their supply organizations, but also against the aircraft industry, including that manufacturing anti-aircraft equipment.
2. After achieving temporary or local air superiority the air war is to be continued against ports, in particular against stores of food, and also against stores of provisions in the interior of the country.
Attacks on the south coast ports will be made on the smallest possible scale, in view of our own forthcoming operations.

Jul

31

1940

Bloody Wednesday in Olkusz, Poland

Jewish men from the Polish city of Olkusz are forced to lie face down in the City Square.

On the 31st July 1940 a German Army police unit arrived in the Polish town of Olkusz and gathered all the Jewish men over 14 in the town centre for “registration”. They were then subjected to hours of bullying sadism, forced to lie face down in the city square and beaten if they moved. Three men died from the beatings.

Jul

30

1945

USS Indianapolis torpedoed – 900 men in the water

The U.S. Navy heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA-35) underway in 1939. An Omaha-class light cruiser and several Clemson/Wickes-class "flushdeck" destroyers are visible in the background.

By then we were in very bad shape. The kapok life jacket becomes waterlogged. It’s good for about 48 hours. We sunk lower down in the water and you had to think about keeping your face out of water. I knew we didn’t have very long to go. The men were semicomatose. We were all on the verge of dying when suddenly this plane flew over. I’m here today because someone on that plane had a sore neck. He went to fix the aerial and got a stiff neck and lay down in the blister underneath. While he was rubbing his neck he saw us.

Jul

30

1940

Bomber Command attacks German airfields

Amiens Airport being bombed by 82 Squadron on 30 July 1940 - with bombs in mid air. the Germans were rapidly lengthening the concrete runway. The interpretation report estimated that 650 metres was serviceable and this was being extended to 1000 metres. The large number of bomb craters illustrate how difficult it was to put airfields out of operations

Amiens Airport being bombed by 82 Squadron on 30 July 1940 – with bombs in mid air. The Germans were rapidly lengthening the concrete runway: the interpretation report estimated that 650 metres was serviceable and this was being extended to 1000 metres. The large number of bomb craters illustrate how difficult it was to put airfields out of operations

Jul

29

1940

Hitler plans the invasion of Russia

Colonel Warliment, pictured in 1939, was one of a very small group of officers who learnt that Hitler wanted to attack Russia in 1940

He repeated Hitler’s view and probably his own also that the collision with Bolshevism was bound to come and that it was better therefore to have this campaign now, when we were at the height of our military power, than to have to call the German people to arms once more in the years to come.

Jul

28

1940

American support promised – but Britain fights alone

Spitfire pilots pose beside the wreckage of a Junkers Ju 87 Stuka, which they shot down as it was attacking a Channel convoy, 1940.

What was later to be designated the Battle of Britain was now firmly underway, with more and more of RAF Fighters Command’s squadrons being drawn into action. Nevertheless much of the fighting was still taking place offshore, as the Luftwaffe continued its attacks on convoys. As a consequence the battle was not yet taking place […]

Jul

26

1945

Winston Churchill falls from power

The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, accompanied by Air Marshal the Hon. Sir Ralph Cochrane, Air Officer Commanding in Chief, Transport Command, walks from his Douglas Skymaster Mark I, EW999, at Northolt, Middlesex, on his return from the Three Power Conference at Potsdam.

All the pressure of great events, on and against which I had mentally so long maintained my “flying speed”, would cease and I should fall. The power to shape the future would be denied me. The knowledge and experience I had gathered, the authority and goodwill I had gained in so many countries, would vanish. I was discontented at the prospect, and turned over at once to sleep again.

Jul

26

1940

Air power changes everything

Sir Alan Brooke, Chief in Command, Home Forces centre, studies  a map with Montgomery, left.

The attitude of representatives of the Naval Command brought [out] very clearly the fact that the navy now realizes fully that its position has been seriously undermined by the advent of aircraft. Sea supremacy is no longer what it was, and in the face of strong bomber forces can no longer ensure the safety of this island against invasion