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  #1  
Old 20th September 2010, 18:56
tcolvin tcolvin is offline
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Any dispute about interpreting the BofB?

On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the BofB, is there any dispute about the point made by Clive Ponting in his book '1940, Myth and Reality', that the BofB was won largely, but not entirely, in spite of the RAF's generalship.


  1. Left to their own devices, the RAF would not have had an effective air defence system in 1940. Their preferred strategy was defence through attack with the bomber. The industrial capacity necessary to outproduce the LW in fighters was created by a decision of Cabinet in November 1938 that overruled the RAF. The RAF's Dowding System of air defence was made possible by political decision-making.
  2. British fighter production, repair and storage systems were reorganised successfully by Beaverbrook's Ministry of Aircraft Production as a result of its separation from the Air Ministry in May 1940. The result was that British fighter availability increased from 644 at the beginning of July 1940 to 732 at end October, while German fighter availability declined over the same period from 725 to 275.
  3. By contrast with the success of non-RAF management of aircraft supply, the supply of pilots was left in RAF hands with nearly disastrous results. The pilot training system was inefficient with 4,000 training aircraft producing 2,500 pilots in the 12 months preceding the summer of 1940, while Germany produced one pilot per training aircraft. Even so there was no real shortage of British pilots with 9,000 available to fly 5,000 aircraft. The RAF nevertheless managed to create a shortage by; over-allocating pilots to squadrons (26 pilots for 20 aircraft); allocating 70% of available pilots to non front-line positions (20% to vital instruction, 20% to continuing training of pilots after they had qualified, and 30% to office jobs because the RAF insisted on all staff jobs being filled by pilots).
  4. The RAF starved the vital 11 Group of Spitfires, giving it a split of 70% Hurricanes/30% Spitfires while other less critical Groups had a 50/50 split.
  5. 11 & 12 Group airfields had resident Blenheim night-fighter squadrons throughout the BofB when their space could have been utilised by Spitfire day-fighters. Coastal Command and FAA airfields in 11 & 12 Group areas were not switched over to day-fighters.
  6. Squadrons when re-deployed took all of their fitters and spares with them which removed the squadron from combat for a week. Pilots who landed at a strange airfield had to return to base before being redeployed, instead of re-engaging from where they landed and returning to base later. The GAF later showed how fighters could be deployed across the length of Germany and be refuelled, rearmed and serviced by any airfield unit.
  7. In summary, the RAF in general stubbornly adhered to tradition and hidebound procedures even at a time of national emergency. The BofB was decided by; Britain's ability to outproduce Germany in fighters; Dowding's System of air defence (the exception that proved the rule); LW mistakes in equipment and strategy; RN destruction of the German destroyer fleet in Norway; and geography.
Tony

Last edited by tcolvin; 20th September 2010 at 18:59. Reason: Layout
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  #2  
Old 20th September 2010, 20:25
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Re: Any dispute about interpreting the BofB?

Have you read Terraine's "The Right of the Line"?

IMHO an excellent analysis of the RAF during the war.

I'm enjoying the BBC's BoB season, but have shut off my "critical" filter to simply enjoy the myth

Regardless how you look at it, the Battle of Britain was an epic fight and the mythical part of it is just as important as the cold facts.

Yesterday watching Ewan and Colin McGregor was pure joy. With just enough drama added to include a perfect lump in the throat at the end. I have a soft spot for Ewan as an actor, his brother looks like a nice guy as well.

The docudrama adaption of Geoff Wellum's "First Light" is a nice example that such an approach to history can work (helas no points for History Channel, or the Cheap Reenactment Channel, which is what it should be called).

I think the success of The Battle of Britain is the success of the myth, which is as ingrained in the national ethos today, as it was back then. It was an epic victory, adding some extra drama and excitement just adds to the overal magnificence.

Do we really have to think about the fact that the RAF had a force multiplier with radar, defensive combat over friendly territory and the short legs of the Jagdwaffe?

That the margin was even smaller if we just count fighters, as the bombers were just flying targets when it comes to air combat?

Finally that an RAF defeat in the south, that is losing air parity, would still leave any hypothetical invasion force that had to face the might of the Royal Navy?

Britain was hardly the "small" isolated european country of the myth

It was one of the biggest empires the world has ever seen, albeit in decline. An empire with still the largest and arguably most powerful navy in the world.

The Kriegsmarine had shot its bolt with the Norwegian invasion. The surface forces would have been of little effect in a German invasion of the south coast of England.

The British people might have feared an invasion (and fear is a great way to mobilize the people in time of crisis), but how many really thought in terms of defeat?

Hind sight is 20-20 granted, but Britain's defense was formidable and the RAF was only the first hurdle, not even the most difficult one...

My thought are in no way to detract from the courage that was shown on a daily basis by all those young men from the RAF that risked their lives in an effort to defend their country. Far from it, like I wrote earlier, I didn't get a lump in my throat and moist eyes for being a cynic as I watched both shows.

In the end I love the myth and have only the highest regard for the few.
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  #3  
Old 21st September 2010, 00:21
glider1 glider1 is offline
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Re: Any dispute about interpreting the BofB?

If I can take these points one at a time

Quote:
Originally Posted by tcolvin View Post
On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the BofB, is there any dispute about the point made by Clive Ponting in his book '1940, Myth and Reality', that the BofB was won largely, but not entirely, in spite of the RAF's generalship.


  1. Left to their own devices, the RAF would not have had an effective air defence system in 1940. Their preferred strategy was defence through attack with the bomber. The industrial capacity necessary to outproduce the LW in fighters was created by a decision of Cabinet in November 1938 that overruled the RAF. The RAF's Dowding System of air defence was made possible by political decision-making.
I think its fair to say that it was made possible by Political pressure but it did come from Dowding ie from the RAF. Politically it made sense to put the money into aircraft as thats the headline that politicos like. From a strategic position the money was best spent on radar.
Quote:
  1. British fighter production, repair and storage systems were reorganised successfully by Beaverbrook's Ministry of Aircraft Production as a result of its separation from the Air Ministry in May 1940. The result was that British fighter availability increased from 644 at the beginning of July 1940 to 732 at end October, while German fighter availability declined over the same period from 725 to 275.
Production is always best kept away from the Air Minestry and kept in the hands of someone who knows about efficiency.
Quote:
  1. By contrast with the success of non-RAF management of aircraft supply, the supply of pilots was left in RAF hands with nearly disastrous results. The pilot training system was inefficient with 4,000 training aircraft producing 2,500 pilots in the 12 months preceding the summer of 1940, while Germany produced one pilot per training aircraft. Even so there was no real shortage of British pilots with 9,000 available to fly 5,000 aircraft. The RAF nevertheless managed to create a shortage by; over-allocating pilots to squadrons (26 pilots for 20 aircraft); allocating 70% of available pilots to non front-line positions (20% to vital instruction, 20% to continuing training of pilots after they had qualified, and 30% to office jobs because the RAF insisted on all staff jobs being filled by pilots).
The only part of this that would agree with is the 30% in office jobs. Training is too important to be left, its a mistake Germany made during the war. 26 Pilots for 20 aircraft I agree with as it gives the squadron some staying power, as tired pilots can be given a day off. PLanes are more easily replaced than pilots. German air units had an equal number of aircraft and pilots and soon had more aircraft than pilots to fly them. By 28th September they had 712 servicable Me109's but only 676 pilots.
Quote:
The RAF starved the vital 11 Group of Spitfires, giving it a split of 70% Hurricanes/30% Spitfires while other less critical Groups had a 50/50 split.
This I agree with totally
Quote:
11 & 12 Group airfields had resident Blenheim night-fighter squadrons throughout the BofB when their space could have been utilised by Spitfire day-fighters. Coastal Command and FAA airfields in 11 & 12 Group areas were not switched over to day-fighters.
The night fighter squadrons had to be in the best place to intercept german bombers and by default that meant fighter command airbases. Also I wasn't aware of a lack of space being an issue and as a result taking over more bases would not have helped much.
Quote:

Squadrons when re-deployed took all of their fitters and spares with them which removed the squadron from combat for a week. Pilots who landed at a strange airfield had to return to base before being redeployed, instead of re-engaging from where they landed and returning to base later. The GAF later showed how fighters could be deployed across the length of Germany and be refuelled, rearmed and serviced by any airfield unit.
I can understand taking the fitters with them but would agree to leaving the spares behind. Also I agree that the Luftwaffe did show more flexibility than any other airforce during the war when it came to units landing at different stations.
Quote:
  1. In summary, the RAF in general stubbornly adhered to tradition and hidebound procedures even at a time of national emergency. The BofB was decided by; Britain's ability to outproduce Germany in fighters; Dowding's System of air defence (the exception that proved the rule); LW mistakes in equipment and strategy; RN destruction of the German destroyer fleet in Norway; and geography.
My Father once told me that we had won because we made less mistakes than the Germans but that probably applies to any battle or conflict.
David
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  #4  
Old 21st September 2010, 01:27
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Re: Any dispute about interpreting the BofB?

Tony, I know you love doing this "why everyone was wrong" thing but in this case it wouldn't have hurt to read a little more widely before cranking up the old contrarian routine. This was all said years ago in Dizzy Allen's "Who Won the Battle of Britain?"

I have seen arguments (possibly in Angus Calder's "The People's War" or Len Deighton's "Fighter" but I couldn't swear to it) that Beaverbrook's achievements were as much a myth as anything else you cite. For instance it is arguable that he arrived too late to affect much during the BoB itself and that his measures achieved short term success at the expense of mid-term chaos (and exhausted workers who started making mistakes) that then had to be sorted out.

When you write "the RAF in general stubbornly adhered to tradition and hidebound procedures … Dowding's System of air defence [was] the exception that proved the rule" you're just trying to have it both ways. in the late 1930s the RAF ordered fighters and started building an air defence system to defend against an attack by unescorted bombers from Germany. There was no air defence system like it anywhere else in the world. That system and those aircraft proved good enough to handle attacks by escorted bombers coming from France in 1940. All in all, I'd say that was a pretty impressive feat of planning and implementation.

The German pilot:aircraft establishment of 1:1, their training infrastructure and their "fly-till-you-die" system (no tours of duty, just the odd break beside a lake) were all part of Germany's failure to plan for anything but a short war.

In 1940 Luftwaffe Intelligence was a contradiction in terms.

The Spitfire and Hurricane were designed from the outset to carry eight machine guns, the Bf 109 for two (perhaps on the basis that if it was good enough in 1917 it was good enough in 1935). The Bf 109 of 1939, playing catch-up, had half the Spit/Hurricane armament and in mid-1940 it jumped ahead for a short time.

You mentioned the Blenheims: a Blenheim achieved the first ever kill with airborne radar during the Battle, something the Luftwaffe couldn't manage for about another two years.

Nobody got everything right but the RAF still won the Battle of Britain.
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Old 21st September 2010, 01:57
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Re: Any dispute about interpreting the BofB?

Hello Tony
To add to Glider1’s comments
2. There are conflicting opinions on Beaverbrook’s time at MAP and probably it is true that he increased both efficiency and chaos in production. But dramatic increase of fighter production wasn't possible in short timeframe, it would have taken time. And the 275 as for LW fighter availability is a myth, if one comment it politely. By end of Sept the number of qualified fighter pilots was the limiting factor for Jagdwaffe, 28 Sept 40 there were 712 serviceable 109s in first-line units but only 676 combat ready pilots to fly them. So much on superior training org of LW. But it’s true that also in RAF Training Command there were ineffectiveness and lack of urgency.
Number 4 is what also I have wondered often.
Number 6. That might also be a myth. For ex 603 Sqn took off from Turnhouse in Scotland on 27 Aug 40 for Hornchurch in Essex. And from there they scrambled first time at 12.25 next day, 2 more scrambles followed before the end of the day.
7. One item is missing, FC succeeded to establish a positive exchange rate. With badly negative exchange rate even being able to outproduce isn’t enough.

Juha
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Old 21st September 2010, 02:13
Kutscha Kutscha is offline
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Re: Any dispute about interpreting the BofB?

I think there is a sickness in British society these days.

Clive Ponting certainly did not do much, if any, research.

Quote:
British fighter production, repair and storage systems were reorganised successfully by Beaverbrook's Ministry of Aircraft Production as a result of its separation from the Air Ministry in May 1940. The result was that British fighter availability increased from 644 at the beginning of July 1940 to 732 at end October, while German fighter availability declined over the same period from 725 to 275.
Single engine fighters Date: 28.06.40

Bf109s - 1107 on hand, 856 serviceable
Pilots - 1126 present, 906 ready

Single engine fighters Date: 28.09.40

Bf109s - 920 on hand, 712 serviceable
Pilots - 917 present, 676 ready

Single engine fighters Date: 28.12.40

Bf109s - 829 on hand, 586 serviceable
Pilots - 915 present, 711 ready

http://www.ww2.dk/oob/statistics/gob.htm

Quote:
Squadrons when re-deployed took all of their fitters and spares with them which removed the squadron from combat for a week. Pilots who landed at a strange airfield had to return to base before being redeployed, instead of re-engaging from where they landed and returning to base later. The GAF later showed how fighters could be deployed across the length of Germany and be refuelled, rearmed and serviced by any airfield unit.
Keeping the 'team together is a good idea. Taking spares with the squadron helps with logistics. You know what you have and don't have.

What a nightmare for FC control trying to co-ordinate these odd a/c into the battle.

Considering that most of the airfields in 11 Group were FC airfields I don't see much problem re-arming and re-fueling.

Actually a Fw190 could not be re-fueled at a Bf109 base unless there was C3 fuel present and certainly could not be serviced.
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Old 21st September 2010, 02:27
Larry Larry is offline
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Re: Any dispute about interpreting the BofB?

Regarding the threat of invasion, it may be the case that the RN was a force to reckon with but as for the British Army many men arrived from Dunkirk with hardly any kit or clothing let along their weapons. It was a critical time for the Army which lost thousands of vehicles in France. It has been said that for a while there were only 80 tanks left in the UK in June 1940. If the Germans had used paratroops and landed troops the same day as we did on D-Day I think we would have lost. We were hardly invincible on land at that time despite having an Empire.
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Old 21st September 2010, 03:10
Kutscha Kutscha is offline
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Re: Any dispute about interpreting the BofB?

Disposition of RAF FC squadrons on Aug 13 1940. One thing to keep in mind is the nearness of 10 and 12 Group Spitfire bases to 11 Group.

10 Group

No. 87 Squadron (Hurricane

No. 213 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 238 Squadron (Hurricane)

No. 92 Squadron (Spitfire)
No. 234 Squadron (Spitfire)
No. 609 Squadron (Spitfire)

No. 247 Squadron (Gladiator)

No. 604 Squadron (Blenheim)

11 Group

No. 17 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 32 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 85 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 56 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 151 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 501 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 615 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 111 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 1 (RCAF) Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 1 (RAF) Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 257 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 43 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 145 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 601 Squadron (Hurricane)

No. 54 Squadron (Spitfire)
No. 65 Squadron (Spitfire)
No. 74 Squadron (Spitfire)
No. 266 Squadron (Spitfire)
No. 610 Squadron (Spitfire)
No. 64 Squadron (Spitfire)

No. 600 Squadron (Blenheim)


12 group

No. 73 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 249 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 46 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 242 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 229 Squadron (Hurricane)

No. 616 Squadron (Spitfire)
No. 222 Squadron (Spitfire)
No. 611 Squadron (Spitfire)
No. 66 Squadron (Spitfire)
No. 19 Squadron (Spitfire)

No. 264 Squadron (Defiant)

No. 29 Squadron (Blenheim)


13 Group

No. 607 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 3 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 504 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 232 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 605 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 253 Squadron (Hurricane)
No. 245 Squadron (Hurricane)

No. 41 Squadron (Spitfire)
No. 72 Squadron (Spitfire)
No. 79 Squadron (Spitfire)
No. 603 Squadron (Spitfire)
No. 602 Squadron (Spitfire)

No. 219 Squadron (Blenheim)

No. 141 Squadron (Defiant)

http://www.battleofbritain1940.net/document-30.html
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  #9  
Old 21st September 2010, 08:30
Skawinski Skawinski is offline
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Re: Any dispute about interpreting the BofB?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Larry View Post
If the Germans had used paratroops and landed troops the same day as we did on D-Day I think we would have lost.
I'm not an expert in paratroops, but it seems that after heavy losses in Holland (especially 50% losses in transport fleet) any large scale air landing operation would be very hard, if not impossible to conduct.
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Old 21st September 2010, 10:31
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Re: Any dispute about interpreting the BofB?

Hello Larry
British vehicle situation was very poor, but the figure 80 tanks means in fact medium tanks, in mid-June 40 British 1 Armoured Div had 81 medium tanks, means tanks armed with 40mm 2pdr gun plus mg(s). But in addition 2 Arm.Div had 178 light tanks, small fast tanks armed with one .303 mg and one .5 mg, so rather useless against other tanks but still dangerous to infantry, even more so to lightly armed paras.

Juha
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