Monday, August 29, 2016

August 30, 1940: RAF's Bad Day

Friday 30 August 1940

30 August 1940 German POW
A captured German crew member on 30 August 1940.
Battle of Britain: In some ways, 30 August 1940 is the most encouraging day of the entire Battle of Britain for the Luftwaffe. There are several rays of sunshine in what has been a bleak campaign for it to date.

The Luftwaffe Luftflotten commanders in France (Sperrle and Kesselring) are changing tactics on a daily basis. Their orders are to destroy the RAF, but they can't do it if the British fighters stay on the ground. The British, for their part, are wise to this game and refuse to offer combat (as on 29 August) unless there are bombers operating over British targets. The Luftwaffe knows that the bombers are vulnerable, so Sperrle and Kesselring are trying to minimize their operations during the day but still draw up Spitfires and Hurricanes to be shot down. It is an intricate dance that requires "baiting" the RAF fighters into battle - something they won't do unless there is sufficient "bait."

The weather is bright and clear, but the Luftwaffe gets a late start as it increasingly has done as the battle has proceeded. The morning is devoted to minor shipping raids in the Thames estuary, one of the convoys from Methil, with no significant results on either side. RAF Vice-Marshal Keith Park, in charge of the sector, considers this a "bait" operation and only sends up minimal forces to intercept.

Later, Kesselring sends over JG 26 on a "Freie Jagd" (no bombers), but again the British fighters stay on the ground to avoid losses.

At 10:30, the Luftwaffe sends across a large force from the Pas de Calais region. This time, there are bombers (Heinkel He 111s). The Luftwaffe has slightly new tactics, a close escort and another group of fighters much higher (25k feet). The RAF gets a little too cute and keeps its fighters on the ground as long as possible, waiting for the escorts to run low on fuel and turn back. Partly as a result, the bombers get through and cause great damage to RAF airfields at Biggin Hill, Detling, Kenley, Rochford, Shoreham, and Tangmere. There are 40 deaths at Biggin Hill, and there are casualties all across the area.

30 August 1940 East Hull
Bomb damage in East Hull, 30 August 1940. This raid was at 01:05 and saw 9 high explosive bombs dropped, damaging docks, railway tracks, and various buildings.
In addition, a lucky hit on a power station deprives several radar stations of power (Beachy Head, Dover, Foreness, Pevensey, Rye, and Whitstable). While they are only offline for a few hours, this leaves the RAF blind and provides an opening for the Luftwaffe. It also shows what might be accomplished but for Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering's insistence that the radar stations are not worthwhile targets.

RAF Nos. 43, 79, 85, 111, 253, 603, 610 and 616 Squadrons make a belated entry. This leads to massive dogfights over much of eastern England.

Another wave of bombers approaches at 11:15, heading for Kent. The fact that the radar chain is out of operation causes massive confusion on the British side, and they have to rely on observers. Once again, the RAF gets a late start on intercepting the bombers, and more and more keep coming across. Biggin Hill and Kenley are among the targets, and poor bombing aim rains bombs everywhere nearby. There are many RAF planes on the ground with battle damage, and these further attacks just add to the damage.

30 August 1940 Jumbo Gracie DFC
28-year-old Flight Leader Edward J "Jumbo" Gracie exhausts his ammunition downing one Heinkel He 111 and damaging another on 30 August 1940. He then lands his Hurricane Mk 1 at RAF in a field near Halstead when his engine seizes. He returns to base and, two days later, is diagnosed with a broken neck. He later receives the DFC for his gallantry.
The conflict between Keith Park at No. 11 Group and Leigh-Mallory at No. 12 Group flares into the open again, this time during the actual battle. The latter is supposed to be supporting Park's effort against the bombers by protecting his airfields - a subsidiary role. However, instead, Leigh-Mallory's fighters go looking for targets themselves - and leave Park's airfields unprotected. Park is furious and gets on the phone shortly afterward, demanding to know:
...where in the hell were your fighters that were supposed to have protected my airfields?
The damage has been done, however, and the Luftwaffe bombers that cratered the fields are long gone by this time.

Kesselring at Luftflotte 2 is not done yet. With both sides having spent their main efforts in the morning, he sends over smaller forces at 13:00. The radar stations being down (unknown to the Germans), these forces attack Hawkinge and Manston, badly damaging them. The Luftwaffe roams over southern England at will, with the defending RAF squadrons virtually blind.

The Luftwaffe then sends over yet more bombers - most likely the ones from the morning refueled and re-armed - at 16:00. The RAF is full of damaged aircraft, refueling aircraft, and damaged fields. Virtually every RAF plane is in the air. Park once again calls No. 12 Group and tries to take over the entire RAF effort, directing Leight-Mallory where to send his fighters (this time to attack the bombers rather than defend the airfields). The day is full of chaos and fury, and many bad feelings.

The Luftwaffe target now is Luton's industrial region, with many bombs dropped erroneously on Vauxhall. The Vauxhall Motor Works is hit, killing 53 workers and 140 casualties. Due to the lack of radar warning, the air raid sirens have not sounded, leaving people above-ground and vulnerable.

The attacks continue throughout the afternoon. RAF Biggin Hill, Detling, and surrounding areas are badly hit. Junkers Ju 88s are carrying unusually large bombs - 1000lbs - and drop them right on target at Biggin Hill.

After dark, the Luftwaffe attacks Liverpool again with a massive force of Heinkel He 111s from KG 27 and Junkers Ju 88s from LG1 and KG 51. Bristol, London, Manchester, and Portsmouth also are hit.

Almost lost in the day's events, the British attack Berlin again with No. 149 Squadron. However, they cause little damage, attacks on Berlin at this point are more nuisance raids than anything else. RAF Bomber Command also attacks oil installations near Rotterdam and other targets in Belgium and Holland with over 80 Hampdens, Wellingtons, and Whitley bombers.

Overall, while not a completely catastrophic day for the RAF, it is perhaps the worst of the entire campaign. The one silver lining for it is that the Germans don't really understand their good fortune, and why it happened. Fighter Command can only hope that things return to "normal" on the morrow and that there are no more lucky hits on the power plants supplying the radar chain.

Losses for the day are estimated at around 41 for the Luftwaffe and 39 for the RAF - an almost equal score for one of the very few times in the entire campaign. Some accounts even give the Luftwaffe the absolute advantage. If one includes the RAF planes lost on the ground and on the raids over Europe during the night (four bombers), the day almost certainly is a big win for the Luftwaffe in terms of planes lost - let alone the ground damage.

More troubling for the RAF is that well over 50 of its men perish during the day and there are numerous badly wounded and other casualties. Biggin Hill is all but out of action and its operations transferred to RAF Hornchurch - already hard-pressed in its defense of the Thames estuary.

RAF No. 303 Squadron (Polish) begins operations.

RAF Flight Officer Anthony "Tony" Eyre is awarded the DFC for numerous victories with his No. 615 Squadron Hurricane Mark I operating out of RAF Kenley.

30 August 1940 Tony Eyre DFC
22-year-old Flight Officer Tony Eyre (left), DFC.
Battle of the Atlantic: The British Admiralty is on high alert because military intelligence suggests that the Germans will be invading today. Cruisers Birmingham and Manchester put to sea with a flotilla of destroyers, but it is a false alarm. The Admiralty is torn between defending against an invasion and defending the convoys. Having to defend against threats in opposing directions causes an intolerable strain, as the Royal Navy has only so many ships at Scapa Flow to divert to flashpoints.

Partly as a result, two U-boats have big days today. It is a demonstration that the Royal Navy escorts for convoys are inadequate, and illustrates why British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is so covetous of the 50 US destroyers that he is trying to get. It also is an illustration that any attempted German invasion could have unforeseen beneficial results for them, as it would weaken already poorly defended convoys as scarce ships are diverted to the east. Even the mere threat of an invasion is helping the U-boats.

U-32 (Oblt.z.S. Hans Jenisch) stalks Convoy HX 66A just off the Isle of Lewis and attacks at 02:20. It gets three quick victories in less than half an hour and damages a fourth. The feat is similar to U-boat ace Joachim Schepke's sinking of four ships in another convoy on the 29th.

U-32 torpedoes and sinks 4804-ton British freighter Chelsea. There are 11 survivors and 24 perish.

U-32 torpedoes and sinks 4318-ton British freighter Mill Hill. There are no survivors, all 34 aboard perish.

U-32 torpedoes and sinks 3971-ton Norwegian freighter Norna. There are 11 survivors and 17 perish.

U-59 (Joachim Matz), meanwhile, is on her 11th patrol west of Scotland. He is stalking Convoy OB 205 about 70 miles off of Scotland. He strikes at 09:34.

U-59 torpedoes 4943 ton Greek freighter San Gabriel. There are 22 survivors and 2 crew perish. The ship stays afloat long enough to be towed to land, but the ship is a blazing wreck and is beached near Cardross in the Clyde and forgotten. This incident shows one of the rare advantages of attacking convoys because Matz was shooting at one ship, but missed and hit the San Gabriel instead.

U-59 torpedoes and damages 8009-ton British tanker Anadara. Tankers are notoriously difficult to sink due to their construction, and the HMS Schelde manages to tow it into the Clyde.

The Luftwaffe adds a ship to the day's losses at 21:30. Sailing in one of the local convoys, WN.11, 1832 ton Norwegian freighter Marstenen goes down in the northeast part of the Moray Firth by the Scottish Highlands about 22 miles southeast of Duncansby Head. The vessel is struck by an aerial torpedo and sinks by the stern in only 10 minutes. Everybody survives when picked up by an escort. This leads to an inquiry because the ship has watertight doors that might have prevented the sinking, but the master abandoned the ship quickly while it was still afloat and without knowing whether the doors were closed. While his quick action perhaps saved some lives, he also might have been able to save the ship with a little due diligence.

Convoy FN 267 departs from Southend, Convoy MT 155 departs from Methil, Convoy FS 267 departs from the Tyne, Convoy OB 206 departs from Liverpool.

U-93 is commissioned.

British armed merchant cruiser HMNZS Monowa (F 59, Captain Hubert V. P. McClintock) is commissioned.

30 August 1940 HMS Illustrious
HMS Illustrious.
Battle of the Mediterranean: Operation Hats is a huge, complex Royal Navy operation that involves ships going in contrary directions (technically, it refers only to the forces heading out of Gibraltar, with subsidiary operations elsewhere). Force F is heading east from Gibraltar, while Admiral Cunningham's fleet based at Alexandria is heading west pursuant to Operation MF2. The joint operations have several objectives:
  1. Run supplies to Malta, which is the main reason for the operation in the first place;
  2. Provide multiple distractions for the convoy to Malta;
  3. Attack Italian shore targets in Libya, Italian and the Aegean.
The overall Royal Navy forces in operation are extremely powerful and illustrate the enduring scope and might of that service throughout the world. Force H includes the aircraft carriers HMS Ark Royal and Illustrious (fitted with new radar gear) and battlecruisers HMS Renown and Sheffield. Admiral Cunningham's fleet, meanwhile, has the battleships (HMS Warspite and Malaya), aircraft carrier HMS Eagle, and numerous supporting ships. The Italians spot the ships moving out of Alexandria by 14:30, but there are no interceptions yet.

At Malta itself, there are no air raids or alerts. Governor Dobbie sends a telegram to the War Office expressing his concern that the island's air defenses remain inadequate to repel attacks that might occur if Malta is chosen to lead heavy offensive operations against Italy.

Hungarian/Romanian/Italian/German Relations: The events of the Second Vienna Award are unique. It is one of the only times when Adolf Hitler intervenes to prevent a war (between Hungary and Romania), rather than to start one.

Hungary has been demanding territory from Romania. Romania, on the other hand, has been losing territory to seemingly everyone (the Soviet Union and Bulgaria have grabbed big chunks recently), and resents any more loss of territory. This sets up the (Second) Vienna Award.

The Hungarian argument goes like this: the Treaty of Trianon which ended World War I in the East had split Hungary apart, and these divisions did not reflect ethnic reality. Hungary feels that it has been given a raw deal by the victors of World War I - a very common feeling during that time - and wants some of its former territories now lying in northern Romania back. This particular territory is the province of Transylvania.

Romania, for its part, is trying hard to ingratiate itself with Germany to protect itself from the colossus to the northeast, the Soviet Union, which already has extorted large portions of its territory. Romania knows that it stands no chance against the USSR without German help. Thus, they have consented to binding arbitration by Germany and its Italian ally over the Transylvanian question. The Germans, it need hardly be said, are no fans of any of the agreements that ended the Great War, so the whole issue presents itself as an open question with no regard to the Treaty of Trianon, the "Victors' Peace."

Foreign Ministers Joachim von Ribbentrop of Germany and Galeazzo Ciano of Italy meet at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna and decide to strike a compromise. Hungary has been demanding 69k km², but Ribbentrop and Ciano cut the area down to 43,492 km². Significantly, there are no population transfers. This is the Second Vienna Award.

Neither the Hungarians nor the Romanians are happy, because Hungary does not achieve its wish of scooping up all the Magyars to the south, and Romania loses well over a million Romanians in the north. These latter people are particularly unhappy, as they fear the Hungarian government under Regent Admiral Miklós Horthy, which fulfills those qualms by quickly committing various atrocities against their new Romanian subjects.

The Romanian government, however, quickly approves the decision during the night, realizing that it has no choice and that half a loaf is better than none at all. The Romanians get the one thing that they absolutely require: a promise from the Germans to defend their borders from here on out. Given that the Soviets have been aggressive with their territorial seizures lately, this creates a potentially unstable situation in a very critical part of Europe. It also shows how confident the Germans are and what they are willing to give as guarantees in the face of Soviet power.

The Second Vienna Award is hardly forgotten in years to come. It remains a huge issue in the region throughout the war. A common joke within the Wehrmacht with a large element of truth is that the Romanians and Hungarians would rather fight each other than fight the Soviets and need to be separated. This mutual hatred and resentment cause a detrimental effect on troop dispositions, particularly during the Stalingrad campaign.

30 August 1940 Vickers tanks
Vickers Mk VI light tanks pass through the village of Linton in Cambridgeshire, 30 August 1940 (Puttnam (Mr), War Office official photographer, Imperial War Museum).
German Military: Adolf Hitler sets 10 September as his own personal deadline for making a decision on Operation Sea Lion (with an actual operation to follow at least a week later). The day's successes against the RAF are breathing just a modicum of life into the dormant plans for the operation. The OKM (German Naval Command) tells him that they can't be ready before 20 September anyway.

US Military: The new commander of the 13th Naval District and Commandant of the Puget Sound Navy Yard is Rear Admiral Charles S. Freeman.

Australia: Lt. General Vernon Sturdee (rank restored from Major General) becomes the new Chief of the General Staff. He replaces General Sir. Brudenell White, who perished in the tragic airplane crash near Canberra on 13 August.

Troop Convoy US 4, another in the series of troop transfers to Egypt, departs.

Gabon: The Vichy French government, alarmed at recent successes by the Free French in Africa, dispatches submarine Sidi Ferruch from patrol to Libreville to shore up the Vichy authorities there.

China: The Japanese and Vichy French sign the Matsuoka-Henry Pact. This allows the Japanese transit rights in French Indochina (Vietnam) and base rights there. The Japanese are permitted to station 6,000 troops there and begin occupying key points in the country immediately. From here on, the Vichy French are only in nominal control of the country.

30 August 1940 Heinkel He 111 bomber crash landed
A Heinkel He 111 shot down during an attack on Biggin Hill, 30 August 1940 (Getty Images).
August 1940

August 1, 1940: Two RN Subs Lost
August 2, 1940: Operation Hurry
August 3, 1940: Italians Attack British Somaliland
August 4, 1940: Dueling Legends in the US
August 5, 1940: First Plan for Barbarossa
August 6, 1940: Wipe Out The RAF
August 7, 1940: Burning Oil Plants
August 8, 1940: True Start of Battle of Britain
August 9, 1940: Aufbau Ost
August 10, 1940: Romania Clamps Down On Jews
August 11, 1940: Huge Aerial Losses
August 12, 1940: Attacks on Radar
August 13, 1940: Adler Tag
August 14, 1940: Sir Henry's Mission
August 15, 1940: Luftwaffe's Black Thursday
August 16, 1940: Wolfpack Time
August 17, 1940: Blockade of Britain
August 18, 1940: The Hardest Day
August 19, 1940: Enter The Zero
August 20, 1940: So Much Owed By So Many
August 21, 1940: Anglo Saxon Incident
August 22, 1940: Hellfire Corner
August 23, 1940: Seaplanes Attack
August 24, 1940: Slippery Slope
August 25, 1940: RAF Bombs Berlin
August 26, 1940: Troops Moved for Barbarossa
August 27, 1940: Air Base in Iceland
August 28, 1940: Call Me Meyer
August 29, 1940: Schepke's Big Day
August 30, 1940: RAF's Bad Day
August 31, 1940: Texel Disaster


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