Sunday 15th September, although nobody knew it at the time, was to be the defining day of the Battle of Britain. The early mist slowly cleared and although the light cumulus cloud was enough to produce a little rain in places, visibility remained good, with a gentle westerly wind that moved round to northwest as the day advanced.
At around 11.30 Göring launched the first wave of his morning attack of 100 or so aircraft, shortly to be followed by a further 150. It was a formidable force made up of Dornier Do 17s and Do 215s, escorted by Messerschmitt Bf 109s. They were flying at various heights between 15,000 feet and 26,000 feet.
Defenders were scrambled and for about 45 minutes a fierce battle raged over east Kent and London. Even so, about 100 enemy bombers reached south and east London, with some actually being intercepted over the centre. Sixteen squadrons of 11 Group were initially involved, closely followed by five squadrons from 12 Group. Squadrons from 10 Group were also called in.
242 Squadron was ordered off from Coltishall at precisely 11.22 and flew down to Duxford, where according to the plan, they formed up with 310, 302, 19 and 611 Squadrons and headed south towards the action. For once the timing was right and they were in an ideal position with respect to height and the position of the sun.
Douglas led the Wing to patrol a flexible area over Gravesend. The three Hurricane squadrons, 242, 310 and 302 flew at around 25,000 feet, ready to meet the bombers, while the two Spitfire squadrons, 10 and 611, were a bit higher at between 26,000 and 27,000 feet, ready to deal with the fighters.
In a space between noon and 12.30, a total of between 150 and 200 individual combats took place in an area of sky roughly 8 miles long, 38 miles broad and between 4 and 6 miles high.
It has to be remembered these combats often took place at speeds of between 300 and 400 miles an hour. An enemy plane might have been intercepted over Hammersmith and destroyed over Dungeness. Many combats went as far as the French coast. Sgt J A Potter of 19 Squadron was involved in just such a chase, but unfortunately for him, having got that far he was shot down and ended up as a POW.
Douglas later commented that: “at one time you could see planes all over the place and the sky seemed full of parachutes. It was sudden death that morning for our fighters shot them to blazes”.
The 56 fighters of the Duxford Wing returned to base having claimed a total of 26 enemy aircraft destroyed, plus 8 probables and 2 damaged. There was hardly time to get their aircraft refuelled and grab a quick sandwich before they were ordered off again at 12 minutes past 2. Although the same five squadrons were involved, this time there were only 49 fighters rather than 56.
from "Douglas Bader" by Michael Evans
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