On the 1st August the Luftwaffe senior command met for a conference to discuss the destruction of the RAF. Not for the last time Hermann Goring had made extravagant promises to Hitler that he could single handedly achieve the Fuhrer’s objectives with his airforce.
The RAF had been carefully keeping its reserves out of the air battle around the coast of Britain. Luftwaffe intelligence had interpreted this as a lack of strength. The more insightful of the German fighter pilots recognised that this was not the case at all – they were being held back to counter the more intensive attacks that the Luftwaffe were now planning to launch.
Oberst Theo Osterkamp the commander of Jagdgeschwader 51, attended the conference as a representative of the fighter pilots that were currently doing battle. He quickly learnt that his observations on the state of the RAF were not welcome:
A big conference of the Luftwaffe command with its Supreme Commander Hermann Goring. Place of action – The Hague, at the headquarters of General Christiansen, the commander in Holland. I have the honour to join this illustrious company as the representative of the fighter forces.
Everybody of rank and name is present. Because of the good weather the festival takes place in the garden. The ‘Iron One’ [Goring] appears in a new white gala uniform.
At first he praised extravagantly the lion’s share of the Luftwaffe in the defeat of France. ‘And now, gentlemen, the Fuhrer has ordered me to crush Britain with my Luftwaffe. By means of hard blows I plan to have this enemy, who has already suffered a decisive moral defeat, down on his knees in the nearest future, so that an occupation of the island by our troops can proceed without any risk!’
Then the matter of orders and directives for the execution of the plan was taken up. According to the information of the intelligence service. Britain disposed in its southern sector – the only one which came into question for us – of, at the most, 400-500 fighters.
Their destruction in the air and on land was to be carried out in three phases: during the first five days in a semicircle starting in the west and proceeding south and then east, within a radius of 150 to 100 kilometres south of London; in the next three days within 50 to 100 kilometres; and during the last five days within the 50-kilometre circle around London. That would irrevocably gain an absolute air superiority over England and fulfil the Fuhrer’s mission!
I think that I must have made a terribly stupid face, but in my case that should scarcely attract any attention. Udet told me later that I shook my head in shock, but I do not remember.
At any rate I saw Udet leaning down to Goring and whispering something to him. Goring looked up, saw me and said, ‘Well, Osterkamp, have you got a question?’
I explained to him that during the time when I alone was in combat over England with my Geschwader I counted, on the basis of continuous monitoring of the British radio and of air battles during which the distinctive marks of the units [to which the British fighters belonged] were ascertained, that at that time about 500 to 700 British fighters were concentrated in the area around London. Their numbers had increased considerably if compared with the number of planes available at the beginning of the battle. All new units were equipped with Spitfires, which I considered of a quality equal to our fighters.
I wanted to say more, but Goring cut me off angrily: ‘This is nonsense, our information is excellent, and I am perfectly aware of the situation. Besides, the Messerschmitt is much better than the Spitfire, because, as you yourself reported, the British are too cowardly to engage your fighters!’
‘I shall permit myself to remark that I reported only that the British fighters were ordered to avoid battles with our fighters — ’ ‘That is the same thing,’ Hermann shouted: ‘if they were as strong and good as you maintain, I would have to send my Luftzeugmeister [Udet] before the firing squad.’
Udet smiled and touched his neck with his hand. I still could not hold back and said, ‘May I ask how many fighters will be used in the combat against Britain?’ Hermann answered, ‘Naturally, all our fighter squadrons will be used in the struggle.’ I now knew as much as I had known before and thought, after a careful appraisal, to be able to count on some 1,200 to 1,500 fighters. In this too I was to be bitterly disappointed.
As quoted by Telford Taylor in The breaking wave: The German defeat in the summer of 1940
On the same day, 1st August 1940, Hitler issued Directive 17, believing that a knock-out blow against the RAF was within the grasp of the Luftwaffe:
In order to establish the necessary conditions for the final conquest of England I intend to intensify air and sea warfare against the English homeland. I therefore order as follows:
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.
3. On the other hand, air attacks on enemy warships and merchant ships may be reduced except where some particularly favourable target happens to present itself, where such attacks would lend
additional effectiveness to those mentioned in Paragraph 2, or where such attacks are necessary for the training of air crews for further operations.
4. The intensified air warfare will be carried out in such a way that the Air Force can at any time be called upon to give adequate support to naval operations against suitable targets. It must also be ready to take part in full force in Operation Seelowe.
5. I reserve to myself the right to decide on terror attacks as measures of reprisal.
6. The intensification of the air war may begin on or after 5 August. The exact time is to be decided by the Air Force after completion of preparations and in the light of the weather.
The Navy is authorized to begin the proposed intensified naval war at the same time.