Sunday 11 July 2010

the Battle of Britain - first raids on Channel convoys by KG 2

Adapted and extracted with permission from Ulf Balke's history of KG 2 "Der Luftkreig in Europa 1939- 41 "

Following the rapid end of the Westfeldzug - the campaign in the West - on 22 June 1940, there was a halt in operations that the Luftwaffe would put to use to make good losses in personnel and aircraft. It was widely believed on the German side that 'peace' negociations were on-going with the British. The OKW was at the same time considering how a continuation of the war against the British might be prosecuted - the campaign in the West contained no plans for the invasion of the British Isles, indeed, the Westfeldzug had been widely expected to require a much lengthier time frame than the six weeks actually necessary to over-run France. On 2 July the OKW issued a directive for the continued prosecution of the war against England, the "Kriegführung gegen England"; under certain conditions -of which the most important was "the securing of aerial superiority over England "- the preparation of "possible scenarios for a landing attempt in England may become necessary". The time frame for such considerations "is to remain open".
As a result of such deliberations the air units of Luftflotten 2 and 3 received their first orders for the preparation of attacks against British shipping in the English Channel. The first phase of what would become known as the Battle of Britain would thus comprise attacks on Channel convoys bringing much needed coal, raw materials, machinery and foodstuffs to Britain - the so-called Geleitzugbekämpfung. The bulk of the attacks were in the south in the Straits of Dover and in the outer Thames Estuary. Elsewhere German reconnaissance aircraft were sent out along the east coast while other nuisance raids took place in the north. During this phase, London remained untouched.

The attacks on Channel convoys would it was hoped, draw out the British fighters from their bases. This way the Luftwaffe could analyse the strength of the RAF and determine the speed and the efficiency with which the RAF could deploy its squadrons. A battlegroup consisting of KG 2, II./StG 1, IV(Stuka)./LG 1 and other units such as Rubensdörffer's Erpr.Gr.210 and the fighters of I. -III./ JG51 under Oberst Osterkamp were concentrated into a shipping strike force under the Geschwaderkommodore of KG 2, Oberst Johannes Fink, who was given the title Kanalkampfführer or Leader of the Channel Battle. Fink based his mobile Gefechtsstand in Wissant, a small village on the coast just south of Cap Griz Nez on the Channel coast between Calais and Boulogne opposite Dover and Folkestone. His first act was to order the Gruppen of KG2 to deploy nearer to the coast at the airfields of Signy le Petit, and Epinoy north-west of Cambrai.

The first mission against a Channel convoy off England was flown on the afternoon of Thursday 4 July 1940 by 18 Dornier Do 17s of II./KG2 escorted by some thirty Bf109s. The raid was countered by Hurricanes, apaprently of No. 79 Sq. Four KG 2 crewmen were wounded and two Do 17s damaged in the running battle that developed while a 2,000 GRT cargo ship was claimed 'probably sunk'. Ofw. Wolff of 6./KG 2 reported;

" This is it - we are flying the first sortie against England! Escorted by fighters we are to attack a convoy steaming off Dover close to the British coast. We are airborne at 14:30 after 4. and 5. Staffeln. We crossed the Channel at an altitude of 2,000 metres - the sky is partially covered which will hinder our bomb run and escape. We fly several passes but lose the formation when entering and flying through a cloud bank. I attach myself to the first Kette I sight. Suddenly three Hurricanes hove into view, diving down on us. The clatter of our guns is matched only by the crashing and banging of their shells as they slam into our cockpit and fuselage. I draw my neck into my shoulders and duck instinctively and close up tighter to the lead machine of our formation. The attack goes on relentlessly. Our Beobachter (observer) Oblt. Dörwaldt and Bordfunker (radio operator) Uffz. Krehl are wounded. They bleed heavily from gun shot wounds to the head and thigh. Our starboard engine is hit and oil pressure rapidly falls away. Luckily for us our escort then arrives on the scene, so there are no further attacks on us from the British fighters. I manage to nurse our shot-up Do 17 back to the nearest airfield and attempt a landing - it is St. Omer. The tail wheel has been shot away and it impossible to feather the starboard engine. Once safely down we count over one hundred bullet strikes on the airframe, including four the size of a fist that must have been caused by tracers. The rudder controls have been shot away, the radio operators position has taken four shells and the cockpit is awash with blood ( 'eine Blutlache' ). Although we had fired off red flares as we over-flew the field there was no-one there to meet us as we rolled to a stand at the end of the runway. When help eventually arrived I was in a blind rage, cursing and swearing at anyone in my way. I have never been so livid. Our two badly injured crewmen were taken to hospital and we went with them. In the end Krehl's wounds proved to be skin grazes. Later that evening a truck came for us. According to reports filed by our fighters two ships had been sunk and three enemy fighters shot down by our Me 109s.. "