Sunday, September 4, 2016

September 6, 1940: The Luftwaffe Peaks

Friday 6 September 1940

6 September 1940 Faith Saint Augustine's Church
Faith, the church cat at St. Augustine's in London. On 6 September, 1940, Faith moves her newborn kitten Panda from a comfortable upper floor to the cold basement. The next day, the Blitz begins and the church is flattened. Faith survives in the basement - as does Panda. Faith receives a medal for "steadfast courage in the Battle of London."
British Military: The Home Forces Headquarters under General Sir Alan Brooke on 6 September 1940 issues preliminary Alert No. 3. It cautions than an invasion is probable within three days.

Air Vice-Marshal Dowding does something that the Germans will have to do in a few years: he begins categorizing Fighter Command units by their level of combat-worthiness. In an alphabetical scheme, "A" units are those in the front line, "B" units are those held in reserve for the "A" units, and "C" units are those which are no longer fit for combat. This kind of categorization is a sign of a military on the verge of collapse, as losses in some units simply cannot be made up with the resources available. It is military triage, with assets moved to the units in the best shape and those in the worst shape not helped.

Dowding cannot know it, but today, 6 September 1940, is the Luftwaffe's peak in the Battle of Britain.

6 September 1940 King George Queen Elizabeth
Air Vice-Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding accompanying HRH King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on an inspection tour, September 1940.
German Military: Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering, operating from his command train Asia parked near Cap Gris Nez, announces that he is taking personal command of Luftwaffe operations against England. He makes a radio broadcast during the evening stating this and adds, and not in a shy way, that it is a "historic" moment. This is because Hitler has decided to retaliate against the attacks on Berlin with a "mighty blow" against London. Goering, of course, wants to be seen as being in charge of this "mighty blow."

One must assume that Goering makes such a big show of taking command today because he assumes the Battle of Britain is all but won. All that remains is the Luftwaffe's destruction of English cities against diminishing RAF operation - he would never act so boldly and publicly if he thought the Luftwaffe was in any danger of losing the battle.

In fact, the decision to bomb London that he announces a few breaths later assures the Luftwaffe's ultimate defeat. This is a major turning point in World War II.

Battle of Britain: The RAF bombs Berlin during the night and this is an obvious attempt to bait Hitler into retaliating. There is fine weather, which leads to a full day of air combat.

The first Luftwaffe attacks are at 08:00 when a Freie Jagd (bomber-less group) of Bf-109s attack industrial targets at Weybridge. RAF No. 609 Squadron tries to intercept, but can't find the Germans. Then, when the squadron returns to base, Bf 110s appear and bomb the Hawker factory at Brooklands, causing minor damage.

About an hour later, between 09:00 and 10:00, a huge Luftwaffe force of about 300 planes crosses the coastline around Dover. As usual, the planes split up to hit different targets, such as the Thames estuary region and points further up the river. The Germans attack the usual airfields, including Biggin Hill, North Weald, Kenley, Maidstone, Turnbridge Wells, and Rochester. The burning oil installations at Thameshaven hit on the 5th attract further attacks, and they are easy to find due to the smoke arising from them. RAF No. 303 Squadron has a very bad encounter with Bf 109s of III,/JG 27 around this time, losing seven Hurricanes.

During the early afternoon, another large attack, almost as large as the previous one around the same area. It no doubt includes many of the planes from the previous attack. This raid has less success, but Debden, Hornchurch and Biggin Hill receive damage. There are major dogfights during this raid, with elite Luftwaffe squadron JG 26 clearing the path for the bombers.

A third attack develops around 18:00, but this is much smaller than the previous two. The fifty aircraft cross the coastline at Maidstone but don't do much damage after being intercepted by RAF Nos. 111 and 222 Squadrons.

By day's end, RAF airfields at Lympne, Manston, and Biggin Hill are to one degree or another out of operation. Other airfields in the southeast are badly damaged. A few more weeks of similar attacks conceivably could force a general retreat of RAF forces to west and north of London, opening the way to invasion along the southern coast. The radar stations are taking a beating, and the Achilles heel of the RAF fighter network - ground communications - is coming apart as errant bombs around airfields hit underground communications cables, severing contact between stations. More ominously, the RAF is being shot out of the sky, with losses far outpacing production and experienced fighter pilots killed in action very difficult to replace.

A close study of changing RAF tactics by the Luftwaffe high command would reveal this pattern. Operations are much easier than they were early in the battle. However, the Luftwaffe intelligence staff (like the rest of the Wehrmacht) is wildly over-confident and draws extreme conclusions that are completely unwarranted. They look at the evidence of fewer RAF interceptions against the Freie Jagds and draw the conclusion that the RAF is completely beaten - rather than that the RAF has changed its tactics for self-preservation. The Luftwaffe staff conclude that the priority given to RAF installations can be reduced just at the moment when the RAF infrastructure is at its most vulnerable. In fact, the RAF is just hunkering down to protect its assets for the long haul, sort of like blood in a freezing person's body leaving the extremities to protect the heart and vital organs. The RAF is far from beaten, as assumed by the Luftwaffe.

The Luftwaffe bombs the HQ of No. 5 RAF Group at Grantham for the first time. For some reason, the Luftwaffe will continue bombing the town over and over in the coming weeks.

During the night of the 5th/6th, RAF Bomber Command sends a major raid against Berlin. Targets include a power station. Other targets include oil installations in Salzhof, Austria, railway installations in Krefeld, Hamm, Soest, Mannheim, and Ehrang, and the Black Forest again. Bombers attack the large German coastal guns at Pas de Calais without success.

The Luftwaffe superiority is shown by all the aces padding their totals against reduced opposition. Major Werner Mölders, Kommodore of Stab,/JG 51, gets his thirty-third victory, a Spitfire over Folkestone. Major Adolf Galland, commander of JG 26, gets his twenty-ninth victory, a Hurricane over Tonbridge. Oblt. Helmut Wick of 6,/JG 2 gets his twenty-fourth kill. Many other aces also get victories.

Uffz. Hans-Georg Schulte of 7,/JG 53 lands his Bf-109 at Hawkinge after staying too long over England and running out of fuel. He becomes a POW, and his plane is added to the RAF's "Ratwaffe."

Against all odds, the Luftwaffe is winning the Battle of Britain. In terms of Germany actually winning the battle, this is the high point.

6 September 1940 HMS Godetia
HMS Godetia is lost on 6 September 1940.
Battle of the Atlantic: The Luftwaffe attacks Convoy SL 44A east of Peterhead, Aberdeenshire in the North Sea. They bomb and sinks 4647-ton British freighter Saint Glen. Three of the crew perish. Another freighter, 1336 ton Gannet, is damaged in the attack and has to be towed into Peterhead.

An escort of Convoy OA 207 collides with British freighter Marsa in the Irish Sea near Altacarry Head, County Antrim in Northern Ireland. Royal Navy corvette HMS Godetia (925 tons) sinks, with the loss of 32 crew and 15 survivors. The Marsa makes it back to port.

Small Norwegian freighter O.C. hits a mine and sinks near the mouth of the Hemnfjorden in the general vicinity of Trondheim. There are two survivors, and five crew perish.

British Submarine HMS Tribune spots a U-boat 15 nautical miles off of St. Kilda of the Outer Hebrides and launches torpedoes which miss. It turns out to be U-56  (Oblt.z.S. Otto Harms), transiting the area at the time. The U-56 does not notice and proceeds on its way back to Kiel.

The Luftwaffe damages trawlers Iwate and Ilfracombe off the west coast of England. Also damaged are British freighter Merchant Star and Greek freighter Aegeon.

German minelayers with heavy escort set up minefield SW 0 in the southwest North Sea. This is one of the few actual operations conducted in preparation for Operation Sealion, the invasion of England.

A flotilla led by the aircraft carrier HMS Furious and battleship Nelson departs from Scapa Flow to attack Axis shipping off Trondheim.

A wolfpack begins assembling in the mid-Atlantic to attack Convoy SC 2 out of St. Johns, Newfoundland. In all, four U-boats (U-28, U-47, U-65, U-99) will be involved. U-65 is the first boat there and guides U-47 there first. The two boats prepare to attack during the night.

A large flotilla from Force H departs Gibraltar as part of Operation Menace. It is led by the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and battleships HMS Barham and Resolution. Italian spies in Algeciras spot the flotilla and mistakenly report it as heading into the Mediterranean. The Italian fleet sorties out of its port of Taranto, led by battleships Veneto, Littorio, Cesare, and Duilo.

Convoys OA 210 and MT 162 depart from Methil, Convoy FN 274 departs from Southend, Convoy FS 274 departs from the Tyne.

British Corvette HMS Campanula (K 18, Lt.Cdr. Richard Vere Essex Case) is commissioned.

6 September 1940 HMS Argus
HMS Argus, with Swordfish flying overhead.
Battle of the Mediterranean: The Royal Navy attempts to cut the undersea cable between Syracuse and Tripoli across the Sicilian Narrows, but fails.

British carrier HMS Argus delivers 30 Hurricane fighters to Takoradi in the Gold Coast, from where they will fly to RAF Abu Sueir northeast of Cairo in Egypt. With the RAF under serious pressure in England, this is a gutsy move authorized by Prime Minister Churchill.

At Malta, a full day is spent disarming a German 500kg SD Spreng Dickenwand armor-piercing bomb at Kalafrana. Two RAF officers inspect the bomb, and then the authorities blow it up where it lays - effectively doing the Italian bombers' job for them. It creates a crater 12-feet deep and 25 feet in diameter.

A representative of General de Gaulle, Commandant Robert, arrives on Malta. After conferring with Governor Dobbie, he sends a telegram to the Spears Mission at Whitehall in which he suggests that some French in Tunis might be open to joining the Free French movement. However, he cautions that this might just lead to Italian intervention to support the Vichy commanders in Tunisia, which could lead to a large battle over the key territory. He further suggests that propaganda to Algeria and Morocco could pay dividends.

Battle of the Indian Ocean: The Italian submarine fleet scores a victory in the Red Sea when the Guglielmotti torpedoes and sinks 4008 ton Greek tanker Atlas. Everyone aboard survives. The Atlas is a straggler from Convoy BN 4.

Another attack in the Red Sea by Italian aircraft on Convoy BN 4 is beaten off, with two planes shot down.

German Government: Adolf Hitler meets with Grand Admiral Erich Raeder to discuss Operation Sealion. Raeder throws cold water on the whole idea, which he was the first to bring up months ago. Instead, he proposes a "peripheral campaign" against the British that targets Gibraltar, the Suez Canal, the Vichy French base at Dakar, Azores, Canary Islands, and Cape Verde Islands

British Government: King and Queen travel to Bentley Priory, Stanmore in Middlesex to inspect RAF Fighter Command headquarters.

Spy Stuff: At 03:00, a Luftwaffe Dornier bomber drops a spy dressed in civilian clothes at Yardley, Hastings. He has a radio, is armed and has both Swedish and British identity cards. The only reason he is caught by a farmer around 17:20 - found sleeping in a ditch, heck he was up all night dropping into England - is because he injured himself during his parachute drop (landing on his radio). The man is Gösta Caroli, a Swede trained by Admiral Canaris' Abwehr to spy on British airfields. He is brought to London for interrogation, where he provides quite useful information, including the news that there is another spy like himself in England.

6 September 1940 Dunera
The Dunera.
War Crimes: British troopship Dunera arrives in Australia after a 57-day journey from Great Britain that began in early July. It carries 200 Italian prisoners of war, 251 German POWs, 55 British sympathizers of the Reich, and 2036 German citizens caught in Great Britain at the outbreak of the war. The British guards on the lengthy sea journey have engaged in vicious tactics against their charges, made all the worse in that many of the civilians are Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler. These war crimes lead to a series of courts-martial and convictions. The passengers are sent by train to a camp in Hay, New South Wales.

Anglo/US Relations: The first tranche of US destroyers heading to England pursuant to the "Destroyers for Bases" deal arrives at Halifax, Nova Scotia. They are met there by Royal Navy seamen. This group of destroyers includes:
  • USS Aaron Ward, 
  • USS Buchanan, 
  • USS Crowninshield, 
  • USS Hale, 
  • USS Abel P. Upshur, 
  • USS Welborn C. Wood, 
  • USS Herndon, and 
  • USS Welles
Finnish/Soviet Relations: Under pressure, Helsinki grants the Soviets transit rights to their base at Hango, won during the Winter War. In practical terms, this means that Soviet soldiers will now be allowed to take the train from Vyborg to Hango.

6 September 1940 King Michael II
HRH King Michael II of Romania.
Romania: King Carol II formally abdicates, and his 19-year-old son Michael ascends to the throne (as he had once previously) as Michael II. The ministers prepare a royal decree for Michael to sign which confers virtually unlimited powers on new Prime Minister Ion Antonescu and relegates the monarchy to a ceremonial role. The decree makes Antonescu "Conducător," which is comparable to Fuehrer in Germany or dictator in the rest of the world.

Former King Carol and his mistress Elena Lupescu wisely go into exile. Antonescu orders the royal train protected when the fascist Iron Guard attacks it.

It is easy to bemoan the fall of the monarchy and the horrible things done to the former king. However, it is widely believed that the regime of King Carol was one of the most corrupt in Europe. Carol can be characterized as escaping with - stealing - a large part of the nation's treasury. It is all deposited in numbered accounts in Switzerland. The Antonescu government tries to retrieve this money, to no avail. The lack of a treasury is a serious problem for Antonescu.

The Germans are thrilled. Via Ambassador Fabricius, they immediately endorse the change and laud Antonescu's working relationship with Horia Sima, the leader of the Iron Guard. No longer needing the title of Prime Minister, Antonescu has the king dissolve parliament. He rules as a dictator. The entire government is about to be restructured along dictatorial lines, with the Iron Guard effectively the only political party. However, it is not an ideal situation, as Antonescu - a member of the elite with a sense of fiscal responsibility and an intention to govern in a rational way - and the Iron Guard to not agree on everything. While fascist, there is a strong undercurrent of socialism in the Iron Guard, but you need money to be socialist.

King Michael, meanwhile, retreats to his new ceremonial role. Antonescu largely ignores him from this point forward. Michael is useful in this role, serving as a royal representative of Romania to Germany. He also retains an aura of legitimacy, something that Antonescu, widely viewed as an usurper, never will have.

Channel Islands: The new German military governor is Rudolf von Schmettow, replacing Oberstleutnant Albrecht Lanz. Lanz has just received the Knight's Cross (on 4 September) for operations surrounding the crossing of the River Lys in Belgium. A popular commander, Lanz eventually is headed for new commands in the East.

Palestine: The Italians raid Haifa, but, as with many of their raids on Malta, accomplish nothing but be annoying.

Vichy France: The authorities under Pierre Laval arrest General Maurice Gamelin under accusations of treason. Basically, the Vichy regime is charging all the leaders associated with the fall of France with treason - with the exception, of course, of Vichy France figurehead leader Henri Petain.

General Huntziger, who signed the peace treaties with Germany and Italy, becomes Minister of War.

6 September 1940 Douglas SBD Dauntless
An early Douglas SBD Dauntless.
US Military: The first production Douglas SBDs aka the "Dauntless" are delivered to US Navy units.

The US Army Air Corps issues contracts to Boeing for the first two B-29 (XB-29) and B-32 prototype bombers. These are originally intended to defend the United States by bombing hostile ships at sea, not operate on offensive missions.

The first flight of the Vultee P-66 Vanguard fighter. 144 of these have been ordered by Sweden, and there are no orders from the USAAC or British. These currently have the designation V-49C.

Cruisers USS Wichita and Quincy make port in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil as part of the "Show the Flag" mission.

New US Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox arrives in Pearl Harbor aboard an XPB2Y-2 patrol bomber for an inspection tour.

China: The large Communist forces heading south along the Yangtze River brush aside the Nationalist Chinese brigade sent to stop them in Jiangsu Province.

Future History: King Michael of Romania remains in power as of this writing, retaining his ceremonial role and also his legitimacy. We shall be hearing more about King Michael during World War II.

6 September 1940 Boeing B-32 Dominator
A Boeing B-32 Dominator bomber, much overshadowed by the B-29 but on a parallel construction track.
September 1940

September 1, 1940: RAF's Horrible Weekend
September 2, 1940: German Troopship Sunk
September 3, 1940: Destroyers for Bases
September 4, 1940: Enter Antonescu
September 5, 1940: Stukas Over Malta
September 6, 1940: The Luftwaffe Peaks
September 7, 1940: The Blitz Begins
September 8, 1940: Codeword Cromwell
September 9, 1940: Italians Attack Egypt
September 10, 1940: Hitler Postpones Sealion
September 11, 1940: British Confusion at Gibraltar
September 12, 1940: Warsaw Ghetto Approved
September 13, 1940: Zeros Attack!
September 14, 1940: The Draft Is Back
September 15, 1940: Battle of Britain Day
September 16, 1940: italians Take Sidi Barrani
September 17, 1940: Sealion Kaputt
September 18, 1940: City of Benares Incident
September 19, 1940: Disperse the Barges
September 20, 1940: A Wolfpack Gathers
September 21, 1940: Wolfpack Strikes Convoy HX-72
September 22, 1940: Vietnam War Begins
September 23, 1940: Operation Menace Begins
September 24, 1940: Dakar Fights Back
September 25, 1940: Filton Raid
September 26, 1940: Axis Time
September 27, 1940: Graveney Marsh Battle
September 28, 1940: Radio Belgique Begins
September 29, 1940: Brocklesby Collision
September 30, 1940: Operation Lena


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