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

The largest Royal Navy fleet yet assembled in the Mediterranean set out from Gibraltar on the 30th August 1940. Force H led by Admiral Somerville was attempting to provoke the Italian fleet into battle, whilst supporting the escort of a convoy to Malta.

‘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.

HMS Renown was a 15 inch gun battlecruiser built in 1916

After joint operations with HMS Ark Royal, in which Swordfish aircraft attacked the Italian airfield at Caglieri, HMS Illustrious and HMS Valiant left the force on 2nd September to join the Mediterranean fleet based at Alexandria.

HMS Illustrious, newly commissioned in August 1940, with her Swordfish aircraft.

The battleship HMS Valiant, built in 1914

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Aug

29

1940

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.

Aug

28

1940

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.

Aug

27

1940

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.

TEN OF MY RULES FOR AIR FIGHTING

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”.

Aug

26

1940

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.

Aug

25

1940

Berlin bombed for the first time

Bomb damage in Berlin following first British raid.

Oddly enough, a few minutes before, I had had an argument with the censor from the Propaganda Ministry as to whether it was possible to bomb Berlin. London had just been bombed. It was natural, I said, that the British should try to retaliate. He laughed. It was impossible, he said. There were too many anti-aircraft guns around Berlin.

Aug

24

1940

Portsmouth bombed, battleship Bismarck commissioned

The Bismarck starts sea trails following commissioning

In the words of the ancient poets during the wars of liberation: “Only iron can save us. Only blood can set us free.” Today, we are being endowed and entrusted with a new and awe-inspiring weapon made from steel and iron, our new ship. Today, it will be brought to life by our young crew which is empowered to blend iron and blood into a powerful symphony of iron-willed devotion to duty and conviction, and with red-blooded vigor and fighting spirit the highest military goals shall be achieved.

Aug

23

1945

Deaths continue – is the war really over?

Emaciated British prisoners of war in a Japanese hospital for prisoners of war at Nakom Paton, Thailand.

At the same time I was old enough to know that this lost Japanese platoon was beyond the point where life and death meant anything at all. They were aware that their own lives would shortly end, and that they were free to do anything they wanted, and inflict any pain.

Peace, I realised, was more threatening because the rules that sustained war, however evil, were suspended. The empty paddy fields and derelict villages confirmed that nothing mattered.

Aug

23

1940

Four ships for three torpedoes in Bomba

Fairey Swordfish with Torpedo - three planes with one torpedo each sank four ships on 23rd August 1940.

Approaching the harbour Patch saw an Italian submarine on the surface. This was an unexpected bonus. It was later learnt that this was the submarine Iride, exercising with frogmen who were planning to make a covert attack on the British base at Alexandria. Patch released his torpedo from 30 feet at a distance of 300 yards and scored a direct hit below the conning tower.

Aug

22

1940

German guns shell Dover

One of the German cross channel guns, pictured in 1942 after a concrete fortifications had been built round it

On the 22nd August when the East-bound Channel convoy was approaching the Dover Strait it came under long-range fire from heavy guns situated near Gris Nez. The bombardment continued for nearly 3 hours without success, 108 rounds being fired apparently in four gun salvoes. An enemy battery of four guns and another of three guns were located. Two shells landed in Dover harbour, one narrowly missing a minesweeping trawler. Soon after midday the same convoy was unsuccessfully attacked by 30 aircraft.