Sunday, August 14, 2016

August 15, 1940: Luftwaffe's Black Thursday

Thursday 15 August 1940

15 August 1940 RAF Middle Wallop bomb blast
A Luftwaffe raid on RAF Middle Wallop, on or around 15 August 1940.

German Military: Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering is no fool, but he completely fails at crafting a successful aerial strategy against the British. Partly this is due to poor German military intelligence, partly to grandiose notions he has of what the Luftwaffe can accomplish, and partly to the simple fact that the Luftwaffe equipment is not up to the task before them - something that he, of course, cannot admit. A huge part of the problems, though, is that he has an uncanny knack for drawing the wrong conclusions from known facts.

At his estate north of Berlin named after his dead wife (and not his living one), on 15 August 1940 Goering conducts a critical morning review of the situation with the commanders of the three Luftflotten facing England. Kesselring, Sperrle, and Stumpff have little positive to say about the outcome of Adler Tag on 13 August, but they can't put the blame where much of it belongs: on Goering's own meddling. Goering listens to what they have to say and then issues a lengthy order (see below)  More than anything, it expresses his own frustrations at the course of the battle. The order is the clearest expression of aerial defeat during the entire battle. It also has a remarkably grumpy tone for a top German directive.

The order is full of phrases such as "I have repeatedly given orders" and those fighter tactics "must be readjusted" which evidence obvious anger at the failures to date. There is classic blame-shifting, as he explicitly blames "certain unit commanders" for the failures on Adler Tag. It also is full of observations that are incredibly basic, such as that night attacks on shipping only succeed when the pilots can see their targets - something that local commanders should be well aware of, but apparently are not. Most of all, it appears to be an attempt to cover his own heinie, something that he can always point to as proof that these problems are not his own fault because he was always right.

Basically, the order is a study in scapegoating. Goering knows that Hitler receives summaries of the foreign press every morning, and the London newspapers are making him look the fool for the (extremely overstated) Luftwaffe losses being reported there.

The essence of the order, after you wade through all the whining about the faults of others, is that the vulnerable bombers have to be better-protected, and attacks must be focused on destroying the RAF. With this order, Goering creates the doctrine of close escorts, something which is innovative and adopted by all air forces.

He also draws one of the worst possible conclusions from a factually true statement: the British radar stations have not been destroyed, thus they are not worth attacking. That not only shows phenomenally poor judgment, it also reveals that Goering, the head of the Luftwaffe, now realizes that his force is not up to the job.

15 August 1940 Polish ground crew RAF Hemswell
A Polish groundcrew writes to the enemy on a bomb at RAF Hemswell, 15 August 1940. The message appears to be something along the lines of "Warsaw then, Berlin now." IWM (HU 111733).
Battle of Britain: The weather is poor during the morning, so little takes place then. A fast Dornier Do 17 of 3(F)/31 tempts fate by flying reconnaissance over the damaged radar station at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight but is shot down. Things heat up remarkably when the weather clears, leading to the most Luftwaffe sorties (about 1800) of the entire Battle of Britain.

The day's strategy is to draw Air Marshall Dowding's fighters to the south, leaving the north of Great Britain wide open to attacks from Luftflotte 5 in Norway. This is necessary because Luftwaffe Bf 109s cannot make the 1100-mile distance from Norway to Great Britain and back.

When the weather clears shortly before noon, II./StG 1 and IV (St)./LG 1 of Luftlotte 2 send 45 Stukas, accompanied by escorts from JG 26. The formations split after reaching the coast, with some bombing Folkestone and the others toward Kent. They score a major success by putting the airfield at Lympne out of action. However, RAF No. 54 Squadron metes out punishment over the airport, shooting down two Stukas. The elite JG 26 formation, however, quickly steps in and shoots down two Spitfires in return. Adolf Galland gets two victories during this action.

About two hours later, at 13:30, Luftflotte 5 in Norway sends across 65 Heinkel He 111s from I./KG 26 and III./ KG 26 toward airfields at Dishforth, Usworth, and Linton-upon-Ouse. The only escorts are long-range Bf 110s, which on their best day are no match for Spitfires, but the distance from Norway prevents the use of Bf 109s. An innovation is that Gruppenkommandeur's Bf 110 - Hptm. Werner Restemeyer's plane is outfitted with special radio gear to listen in on RAF radio transmissions vectoring the fighters towards them. A major navigational foul-up, though, nullifies any advantage of surprise, as the Bf 110s mistakenly make landfall right where a supposedly diversionary attack by Luftwaffe seaplanes is taking place. The RAF fighter thus is ready and waiting for the vulnerable Heinkels and Bf 110s, leading to an epic catastrophe for the Luftwaffe in which Restemeyer, five other Bf 110s, and 8 Heinkels are shot down.

At the same time, I., II. and III./KG 30 from Luftlotte 5 attack RAF Driffield - also without escorts - with 50 Junkers Ju 88s. The theory is that by massive attacks, the RAF fighters will be preoccupied elsewhere - which is a very hopeful theory. In fact, the RAF is ready and waiting for them, and, though they do bomb the airfield, the Ju 88s lose 6 planes. However, the attack turns into a success despite the losses because the bombs set off an ammunition dump that destroys a dozen Whitley bombers.

Luftflotte 3 based in Belgium has the next crack. KG 3 sends 88 Dornier Do 17s toward Rochester and Eastchurch airfields in southeast England. This formation, though, has a massive fighter escort of some 130 Bf 109s from JG 26, 51 and 52 - all premier formations. The large force loses only four Bf 109s and two Dorniers, with the bombers doing major damage to the airfields and a nearby aircraft factory developing the Stirling bomber and some other targets as well.

Galland of JG 26 then conducts another mission, this time a pure fighter sweep over the Canterbury region. The RAF fighters are still in the air from the Luftflotte 3 attack, and Galland's fresh fighters go to work. Walter Oesau gets two Spitfires and a barrage balloon, Pips Priller gets one, and generally, the Bf 109s get some payback for the horrendous losses further north.

There also are some minor attacks that are designed to take advantage of the air fleet actions which are preoccupying the defending RAF fighters. I,/LG 1 bombs RAF Middle Wallop, and II,/LG 1 bombs RAF Worthy Down. Some bombers also head for Swanage and Southampton late in the afternoon. The attacks have varying degrees of success depending upon the degree of RAF involvement. There are reports that radar stations at Rye, Dover and at Foreness on the Isle of Wight are put out of action temporarily.

In one of these late-afternoon attacks, Epr.Gr 210 attempts to bomb RAF Martlesham Heath but hits RAF Croyden by mistake (62 dead). Croyden is in the middle of built-up London suburbs, and some mark this as the first attack on London - though apparently unintentional.

KG 27 winds up the day by attacking Bristol. Once again, III,/KG 27 bombs the Bristol Aeroplane Company at Filton and the nearby docks.

RAF Bomber Command continues its attacks on typical targets such as the aircraft works in Turin and Milan, industrial targets in Genoa, oil installations at Gelsenkirchen and Reisholz, various ports, Ruhr ammunition plants, and various airfields throughout northwestern Europe.

The day is another big RAF victory, and within the Luftwaffe, it becomes known as "Black Thursday." The estimated losses for the Luftwaffe are 75, for the RAF 35 (sources vary widely, the newspapers claim 161 Luftwaffe planes lost but that is highly unlikely). The RAF does lose about 18 pilots, but the Luftwaffe loses many times that many aircrews. Major Galland, who has a great day personally, later recalls that, by this point, the wear and tear on the Luftwaffe have become overwhelming and is magnified by the lack of success. The lesson of the day is that bombers absolutely must be escorted, Bf 110s themselves must be escorted, and only well-planned raids that are well-protected can succeed. Luftflotten 5 is taken out of the battle completely because it is too far away for its fighters to make the crossing from Norway.

15 August 1940 Fairbanks Alaska headlines

Battle of the Atlantic: U-51 (Kapitänleutnant Dietrich Knorr) torpedoes and sinks 5709-ton British tanker Sylvafield about 150 miles west of Rockall. There are 36 survivors and three crew perish. The tanker is full of badly needed oil. Tankers are hard to sink, and Knorr has to use two torpedoes.

U-A (Kapitänleutnant Hans Cohausz) torpedoes and sinks 4211 ton Greek ore freighter Aspasia in the eastern Atlantic. All 19 crewmen perish.

British freighter Brixton hits a mine and sinks in the North Sea.

Convoy OA 199 departs from Methil, Convoy OB 198 departs from Liverpool, Convoy SC 1 departs from Sydney, Nova Scotia,.

With the Battle of Britain going poorly, the Kriegsmarine issues orders for the construction of 86 new U-boats. It is getting ready for a long war.

Battle of the Mediterranean: Italy does not want Greece to enter the war. On the feast day of the Assumption of Mary, it tries a little intimidation. The attacks are a complete surprise, including to the Italian Foreign Ministry which must come up with denials about something it knows nothing about.

Greek light cruiser Helle (aka Elli) sinks off the island of Tinos while at anchor. The instant assumption is that an Italian submarine sank it, but nobody knows for sure. This becomes the "Helle Incident." In fact, the cruiser is sunk by Italian submarine Delfino. There are 9 deaths and 24 wounded.

Royal Navy submarine Osiris sinks Italian freighter Morea in the Adriatic.

Greece goes out of its way to simply note that it was an "unknown attacker" in order to not provoke Italy, but it is pretty clear what happened. The incident could have been far more serious, as the Delfino unsuccessfully attacks passenger liners M/V Elsi and M/V Esperos anchored nearby.

Italian bombers also attack Greek destroyers Vasilissa Olga and Vasilevs Georgios I - apparently mistakenly - in the same area.

The RAF attacks the harbor at Bomba, Libya, and also points in Eritrea and Abyssinia. The Italians raid Alexandria.

After a long period with no raids or only light attacks, the Italians mount a major attack on Malta at 13:44. Ten bombers escorted by 25 fighters attack Hal Far airfield, destroying infrastructure and a Swordfish torpedo plane. One of the buildings hit was housing scarce supplies for the Hurricanes. The Italians lose no planes, while the RAF loses one of its precious Hurricanes, with the pilot (Sgt. R. O'Donnell) KIA.

British submarines HMS Pandora and Proteus set off on another supply mission to Malta.

All ice cream sales in Malta are banned.

British commander General Wavell boards his plane in London for the flight back to Alexandria.

15 August 1940 RCAF
Squadron Leader E. A. McNab becomes the first RCAF pilot to record a kill in the Battle of Britain. McNab is Commanding Officer with No 1 (RCAF) Squadron.
British Somaliland: The Italians take another of the four remaining British hills defending the coast road to Berbera. With Observation Hill lost, the British defenders begin pulling back toward the capital. The next blocking position is at Barkasan, about ten miles further down the road.

Major General Godwin-Austen receives a reply to his 14 August request to evacuate; the request is granted. The British will now evacuate the entire country.

One of the soldiers at Tug Argan, Eric Wilson of the British Somaliland Camel Corps, does not receive the order to retreat and continues firing his machine gun. Eventually, he is captured. He later earns the Victoria's Cross for the event.

Anglo/US Relations: As expected, British Prime Minister Churchill is ecstatic at the American offer of exchanging British bases for US destroyers. He replies to President Roosevelt's telegram of 13 Aug 1940, writing that the "moral value of this fresh aid from your Government and your people at this critical time will be very great and widely felt," and that "the worth of every destroyer that you can spare to us is measured in rubies."

Assistant Chief of Naval Operations Rear Admiral Robert L. Ghormley, Major General Delos C. Emmons (USAAC), and Brigadier General George V. Strong (USA) arrive in London for informal staff conversations with British officers. This presumably is related to the transfer of the destroyers.

Italian/Spanish Relations: Generalissimo Francisco Franco of Spain tells fellow dictator Benito Mussolini that he is preparing to join the Axis. However, he is watching the Battle of Britain and other military developments very closely.

US Military: Chrysler contracts with the US Army to construct the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant at Warren, Michigan. This is an innovation in military-industrial cooperation, as it is the first government-owned and contractor-operated facility.

The US Navy establishes a new Naval Air Station in Miami. The first commander is Gerald F. Bogan.

Destroyers USS Wake and USS Wainwright arrive at Bahia, Brazil.

Submarine USS Triton (SS 201,  Lt. Commander Willis A. Lent) is commissioned.

Soviet Military: Boris Shaposhnikov is named Deputy People's Commissar of Defense.

Applied Science: President Roosevelt approves the formation of the National Defense Research Committee, to oversee the activities of civilian researchers working on military projects.

Holocaust: Adolf Eichmann submits a memo proposing the forced deportation of European Jews to Madagascar, which is under Vichy French control.

Luxembourg: The new civil administration in Luxembourg establishes a customs union with Germany, the first step in its ultimate planned absorption.

15 August 1940 RAF No. 64 Squadron RAF Kenley
A pilot of No. 64 Squadron RAF running towards his Supermarine Spitfire Mark 1A as the Squadron is scrambled at Kenley, 10.45 a.m. 15 August 1940. © IWM (HU 54420).
Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering's Order of 15 August 1940:

1. The fighter escort defenses of our Stuka formations must be readjusted, as the enemy is concentrating his fighters against our Stuka operations. It appears necessary to allocate three fighter Gruppen to each Stuka Gruppe, one of these fighter Gruppen remains with the Stukas, and dives with them to the attack; the second flies ahead over the target at medium altitude and engages the fighter defenses; the third protects the whole attack from above. It will also be necessary to escort Stukas returning from the attack over the Channel.

2. Night attacks on shipping targets are only fruitful when the night is so clear that careful aim can be taken.

3. More importance must be attached to co-operation between members of individual aircrews. Seasoned crews are not to be broken up except in cases of utmost urgency.

4. The incident of V(Z)LGI on August 13 shows that certain unit commanders have not yet learned the importance of clear orders.

5. I have repeatedly given orders that twin-engined fighters are only to be employed where the range of other fighters is inadequate, or where it is for the purpose of assisting our single-engined aircraft to break off combat. Our stocks of twin-engined fighters are not great, and we must use them as economically as possible.

6. Until further orders, operations are to be directed exclusively against the enemy Air Force, including the targets of the enemy aircraft industry allocated to the different Luftflotten. Shipping targets, and particularly large naval vessels, are only to be attacked where circumstances are especially propitious. For the moment, other targets should be ignored. We must concentrate our efforts on the destruction of the enemy Air Forces. Our night attacks are essentially dislocation raids, made so that the enemy defenses and population shall be allowed no respite. Even these, however, should where possible be directed against Air Force targets.

7. My orders regarding the carrying out of attacks by single aircraft under cover of cloud conditions have apparently not been correctly understood. Where on one afternoon 50 aircraft are dispatched without adequate preparation on individual missions, it is probable that the operation will be unsuccessful and very costly. I, therefore, repeat that such sorties are to undertaken only by specially selected volunteer crews, who have made a prolonged and intensive study of the target, the most suitable method of attack, and the particular navigational problems involved. By no means, all our crews are qualified to undertake such risks.

8. KG2 100 (bombers) is also in the future, to operate against the enemy Air Force and aircraft industry.

9. It is doubtful if there is any point in continuing the attacks on radar sites, in view of the fact that not one of those attacked has so far been put out of operation.

10. The systematic designation of alternative targets would appear frequently to lead to certain targets being attacked which have absolutely no connection with our strategic aims. It must, therefore, be achieved that even alternative targets are of importance in the battle against the enemy Air Force.

11. The Commanders-in-Chief of the Luftflotten are to report to me on the question of the warnings to be given during enemy penetrations over the Reich. At present, the warnings are causing a loss of output whose consequences are far graver than those caused by the actual bomb damage. In addition, the frequent air raid warnings are leading to nervousness and strain among the population of Western Germany. On the other hand, we must take into account the risk of heavy loss of life should an attack be launched before a warning has been given.

15 August 1940 Field Marshal Albert Kesselring
Field Marshal Kesselring, known to the Allies as "Smiling Albert," probably isn't smiling too much on 15 August 1940.
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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