Episodes & Studies Volume 2
THE EBB OF BATTLE
THE EBB OF BATTLE
THE LOSSES incurred during the heavy daylight attacks in the previous phase precluded a continuation of this type of offensive, and thereafter enemy long-range bombers were less frequently employed by day. The month was characterised by the switch to high-level fighter- bomber attacks by Me109s, though long-range bombers continued to be used at night, mainly against London and the great arms centres in the Midlands. In addition, a few single aircraft were used in daylight to attack the most important industrial keypoints in the country, particularly the aircraft industry. These attacks were in keeping with Hitler's policy that the British must continue to believe he was preparing an attack on a broad front.
Of all the tactics used by the Germans those of October were the most difficult to counter. Because of the inability of radar control to give good warning of very high-flying raids, and of the Observer Corps to track them over land, Air Vice-Marshal Park was again forced to change his tactics during this phase and to maintain standing patrols by pairs of squadrons at 15,000 feet in all weather suitable for attacks. As soon as an attack developed, these fighters were ordered to 30,000 feet to contain the enemy's highest fighters whilst additional squadrons climbed to altitude. ‘This cut at the roots of the Fighter Command system,’ wrote the Commander-in-Chief, ‘which was designed to ensure economy of effort by keeping aircraft on the ground except when required to make an interception.’
The New Zealanders, of whom there were now about seventy-five in the Command, some forty of these in No. 11 Group, flew on many and varied patrols and interceptions during the month and several of them had successful combats. On 2 October Pilot Officer J. S. Smith,24 of No. 151 Squadron, was on local flying practice when he was vectored* on to a lone Heinkel 111 which he chased through cloud and finally shot down into the sea off Skegness. On another occasion Flying Officer Carbury shot down an Me109 from 25,000 feet. This aircraft went straight into the ground. The following day the same pilot at 33,000 feet shot down one Me109 into the Channel and then attacked another which he saw crash on the beach at Dunkirk. Carbury's prowess as a fighter pilot was recognised by the award of the DFC and bar in the field, this double award constituting a unique achievement for a New Zealander within the period of the battle.
On 12 October Pilot Officer P. W. Rabone25 was leading a section of No. 145 Squadron Hurricanes when he was attacked from out of the sun by two Me109s. He turned to attack the second Messerschmitt and found himself in a tight circle with both enemy aircraft, in which position they flew for some twenty seconds. Eventually one enemy aircraft made the mistake of breaking out of the circle:
‘As he did so,’ Rabone later reported, ‘I delivered a burst of two seconds from 100 yards range on the port quarter. The Me109 appeared to explode in the air, no black smoke was seen but the plane spun downwards.’
Rabone was then attacked by the other Messerschmitt and felt bullets hitting his aircraft, but by violent evasive tactics he shook off his attacker and at the same time saw his first adversary dive into the sea off Dungeness.page 30
The success of such combats was due in no small measure to the fact that Air Vice-Marshal Park was able to adjust his tactics and interception methods to meet each change in the enemy's plans. This was a deciding factor in the battle and earned him well merited praise from his Commander-in-Chief, for although tactical control was delegated to Groups, tactical methods were normally laid down by the Command. There was no time for consultation during periods of intense fighting, however, and the Air Officer Commanding No. 11 Group acted from day to day mainly on his own initiative. This indefatigable man directed his few fighter squadrons throughout the entire course of the battle with admirable skill and courage. Yet, whenever a lull relieved him from his operations room he liked nothing better than to continue with the job by climbing into his own Hurricane and flying over the battle area. Often he would land at one of his airfields to see for himself how his fighter pilots were standing up to the battle.
In December Air Vice-Marshal Park was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath for his ‘conspicuous success’ while commanding the fighter defences in the world's first great air battle.
* An order to the pilot by radio telephone from the Controller giving a course to steer and height to fly to intercept the enemy.