England's fighter strength in Battle of Britain

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by ralphwiggum, Dec 19, 2008.

  1. ralphwiggum

    ralphwiggum Member

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    I was browsing on another WW2 site when I stumbled onto a remark that the R.A.F's fighter strength wasn't just a "Handful" of fighters during the battle I started to wonder if this might be true Anyone know anything about this?
    I'm sorry about all my questions I really am
     
  2. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Well, ralph, it wasn't quite a handful, being around 600 + front-line fighters (only a rough count, I'd need to verify the exact amount serviceable), but the Luftwaffe at the time outnumbered (in total strength) the RAF by between 3 to 4 times that amount, depending on which figures are looked at. (Before anybody chirps in saying that it was so and so, I know! This is just a quick explanation!) The main thing was, the lack, or low numbers, of trained fighter pilots, and the general shortage of materials, allowing for equipment lost during the retreat from France.
    Don't worry about asking lots of questions - that's the way to learn, and I'm sure the people here are only too pleased to help if they can.
    Terry.
     
  3. Jerry W. Loper

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    Although the RAF's fighters were outnumbered by the Luftwaffe (Me-109s alone outnumbered the combined RAF Spitfire Hurricane force), the RAF's most severe shortage was pilots, not machines. In addition to the 600-some-odd Hurricanes and Spitfires in operational units, there were about 200-300 in storage available for issue; plus, no matter how intense the battle became, the RAF tried to rotate fatigued squadrons to rest sectors as much as possible.
     
  4. kool kitty89

    kool kitty89 Well-Known Member

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    It was 11 group that really had their backs to the wall prior to the switch to city bombing by the Luftwaffe. The incessant attacks on 11 group brought them to the brink of collapse, but the rest of fighter command was very much intact. (the problem was that 11 group was being pounded so hard that transfering planes and pilots from other units was difficult)
     
  5. ralphwiggum

    ralphwiggum Member

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    I just have to say that although I'm definitely NOT an authority of ANY kind on WW2 I've been a WW2 history enthusiast for a very, very, long time so
    I wonder if what I've read over the years is true :( That's why I come to you guys w/my questions I'm REALLY REALLY impressed with how much you guys know:shock: I wish I was as knowledgeable as all of you:hello2:
    Ralph Wiggum
     
  6. Burmese Bandit

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    And perhaps you might want to take this into account: during the Battle of Britain the British factories outproduced the German ones by roughtly four hurrincanes and spits to every three 109s produced!
     
  7. kool kitty89

    kool kitty89 Well-Known Member

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    Is that 4 Hurris plus 4 Spits, or 4 Hurris and spits total? (I would assume the former given German's rather modest millitary production after the Battle of France)


    There was a point (just before switching to city bombing) that not only was 11 group short on pilots, but aircraft lossed was actuallt outstripping production. (of course, relative losses and production would have been worse still for Germany)
     
  8. Eurofighter

    Eurofighter New Member

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    From what I have read the RAF was in fact outnumbered by the Luftwaffe during the battle but one of the decisive factor in the outcome of the battle was the change of strategy by the Luftwaffe and that British fighters were well suited for their role of interceptors while German capable escort fighters like the Bf 109 lacked the much needed range.
     
  9. freebird

    freebird Active Member

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    You mentioned a few key points in the battle:

    .
    Yes

    Yes

    Yes

    Plus also: The British pilots shot down but not killed could return to duty, while Germans shot down landed in the channel or in the UK as POW's

    The British interceptors concentrated on the bombers, the losses of German bombers were higher than British, and Hitler didn't want to continue such high losses, he needed them for the future {Barbarossa!}

    The turning point was perhaps "Battle of Britain Day" Sept 15, when the Luftwaffe lost 60 aircraft on a single day. 2 days later Hitler postponed the invasion of Britain, and by the middle of October it was clear the Luftwaffe could not defeat the RAF. At this point it was so late in the season that "Operation Sealion" would have to wait until spring, {if ever}
     
  10. kool kitty89

    kool kitty89 Well-Known Member

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    We were discussing some of this here: http://www.ww2aircraft.net/forum/polls/best-battle-britain-aircraft-507-27.html

    A seaborn invasion would not be possible with what Germany had, assuming air superiority.

    Hitler's plan was to use invasion as a threat to bring Britain to the negotiating table. (those "invasion barges" were never a real threat)


    In any case Germany couldn't have geared up for a propper invasion in the time it was asked to.

    However if Britain continued to resist (which it would so long as Churchill remained in power) and Hitler was willing to postpone the invasion of Russia, there are some other possibilities for invading Britain.

    Assuming millitary production was ramped up to full sustainable capacity and Bf 109's got their drop tanks as well as Germany sticking to wearing down the local air defence, attacking airfields -day and night-. (possibly working on ways to work aganst radar)

    It may have been possible to mount an entirely airborne invasion of Britain, with air superiorety. (with aircraft like the Me 321 as well as smaller troop gliders and paratroop transports -Ju 52's)


    On the other hand I think it would have been better (after the BoF) to regroup, ramp up production and development to build up their forces. Then attempt to delay further conflict with Britain (and the US) for as long as possible while Germany invades Russia in 1941 in far greater force than hitorically. (and with a still undefeated Luftwaffe)
     
  11. Kurfürst

    Kurfürst Banned

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    Actually no. The LW and the RAF had rough parity as far as single engined fighters go, and through most of the Battle, save for the early period in July, the RAF actually had more fighters available.

    On June 29, Fighter Command had 814 fighters in squadrons, of which 587 was ready for operations. On the same day, the LW possessed 1107 s-e fighters in daylight fighter squadrons, of which 856 was ready for operations. Not all of this was employed against England, and the figure is somewhat misleading as some many units were overstrenght.

    But, during July action was very light, with relatively few losses on both sides, with action largely limited to skirmishes over the Channel, allowing the RAF FC to further increase its strenght.

    The Germans did not start the battle proper until Adlertag on the 13 August. Just before Adlertag, they had 1106 fighters, of which 749 was ready for operations. This remained more or less stable during the Battle. German s-e fighter strenght was decreasing, partially because of losses, and also because some units were transferred to other duties, ie. training and night fighther, so they no longer show up on daylight single engined fighter reports.

    In any case, Fighter Command had 1048 fighters on strenght, of which 732 were servicable on 28 September; the LW S.E.D.F. amounted 920 present, 712 ready for operations on the same day, after the heavy combat on the preceding day.

    FC also had plenty of reserves, ie. on 9 August they reported 80 Defiants, 160 Hurricanes, and 132 Spitfires immidietely ready for issue. There were a lot more in reserve, ie. on the same day 23 Hurricanes were estimated to be ready within 4 day, and 150 under prerarations for issue, and 33 awaiting repair or modifications. The number of reserves fell heavily during the August/September Battles.

    The real headache was not planes, it was pilots. Although the numbers were present, behind the numbers there were a large number of semi-trained embryo fighter pilots who finished a much shortened training course, while towards the end of the Battle, some did not even finish the shortened one.
     
  12. Waynos

    Waynos Active Member

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    In terms of numbers the available strength of RAF fighter command increased by 40% during the course of the battle from 1,259 pilots on 6th July to 1,796 by 2nd Nov.

    By contrast German fighter strength declined by 25% and bomber strength by 30% during the same period (German figures from Otto Bechtler, intelligence officer for KG2) and separate units were being combined together in order to mount attacks in anything like normal strength. Attrition proved a much bigger problem to the Germans than it was to the British.

    The Luftwaffes change of targets against London was NOT critical to the outcome of the battle as is commonly believed, though it certainly provided relief. Whichever target was attacked made no difference to the loss rate in the air and it was in this that the Luftwaffe lost the battle, indeed the Luftwaffes most successful days in the air battle, 11,14 and 28 September, came after they turned on London. For all the fury the Luftwaffe poured on fighter command before this they failed to knock out the radar screen (although to be fair they, rather surprisingly didn't try very hard which in itself was probably their biggest single tactical blunder) and only put one sector, Biggin, out of action and even then for only a few hours.

    The use of undertrained novice pilots was a problem shared by the RAF and the Luftwaffe in equal measure, the loss rates of Bf 109 pilots is quite telling, in July 11% of available pilots were lost, in August it was 15% and in September 23%. This is Bf 109 pilots only and a loss rate that ther Germans could not simply ignore. So while the German pilots were much more experienced and combat ready at the start of the Battle than their British counterparts losses quickly eroded this advantage and this set in a rot that plagued the Luftwaffe right through to the end of the war. Theo Osterkamp wrote how the crews lost over England in 1940 were highly trained experienced professionals and that this heralded a 'feckless decline' from which the Luftwaffe never recovered throughout the war (Durch Hohen und Tiefen Jagt ein Herz - 1952).

    One of the myths of the battle is the British were unprepared to fight the professionalism of the Germans and that they muddled through. This is complete nonsense, and a view that makes the German defeat look downright embarrassing, as Fighter Command was the best prepared fighter force in the world. In 1940 it was fighting exactly the battle that it had been preparing for since its foundation. Although the aerial formations were naive at the outset, the overall organisation was spot on and the model upon which every modern fighter defence screen is based.

    There are many reasons that the RAF won the Battle of Britain that actually come as a surprise when you look into it as you expect things to be the other way round, for instance the RAF had a carefully prepared system of defence which fully utilised the latest technology available to it and fought in a controlled professional manner, the Germans improvised their attacks and looked to their airmen to come up with a herioic tour de force to win the battle, and then Goering berated them for failing to do so.

    The British worked as a closely co-ordinated team while the Germans worked as individuals, hunters.

    In the RAF the commanders were ruthless and many of the pilots, especially the foreign ones, felt a deep hatred for the Germans while British ones were also fighting a grim battle to keep their homeland free from the Nazi's. The Luftwaffe, however, from correspondence of the time and later, thought of themselves as knights of the air, jousting a noble opponent in a chivalric contest, which was bollocks.

    Basically the British behaved, and conducted the battle, exactly how you would expect the Germans to do, while the Germans seem to have done the opposite. This was a very surprising conclusion I came to while researching the battle from sources from both sides and anyone wondering how the Battle of Britain was won (because the myth of it takes some believing and makes it look almost as if Germany got bored and went away rather than actually being defeated) needs to ignore all the myths they have ever been told and look at only the historic records and memoirs of those who took part from the lowliest Sgt Pilot to the highest commanders to get a proper perspective. But it takes a long time.

    No doubt I will now get flayed by the 'Superior-at-everything' pro German brigade but there you go, I've said it. And I only speak as I find.

    In conclusion you might be interested to learn that Sealion was never officially cancelled. indeed an order was issued as late as 5th February 1944 by Naval High Command that preparation be temporarily halted. I wonder what they thought on june 6th of that same year?
     
  13. parsifal

    parsifal Well-Known Member

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    Kurfurst has the most accurate assessment of the relative fighter strengths. I substantially agree with his strength assessment. Its one of the enduring myths that the RAF was heavily outnumbered. This only holds true if you add up the total German A/C strengths. In the critical fighter elements, the ratio was about 1.3:1 in favour of the LW, however there were a number of factors that prevented this apparent advantage from being exploited. First, was that many of the fighters were badly postioned, and simply lacked the range to get into the fight (eg the 80 or so 109s in Norway). Secondly German target selection throughout the battle was consistently very poor, with the result that they tended to send bomber strikes allover the place, apparently in the hope that this would disjoint the defence and send them allover the place as well. But with the highly sophisticated GCI system that Fighter Command possessed, this was never going to happen. The Although the Brits might attack with only a few aircraft, they would try to get the height and speed advantage make a quick pass at the bombers, and then get out of dodge....if they could. The limited fuel of the 109, coupled later with the close escort orders that came later, meant that the German fighters had a hard time engaging the RAF.

    The Luftwaffe enjoyed superior pilots, and tactics at the beginning, and in my opinion the 109 was equal to the Spit, and superior to the Hurri. These advantages showed at the beginning, in the loss rates over the Channel and in the early clashes in August. However, as Freebird points out, every pilot lost in combat was a pilot lost for the germans, whereas for the allies only about 50% of the shoot down resulted in a pilot loss. British replacement rates were massively greater than the Germans

    Much has been said about the poor choice of targets by the germans,. But this is a misconception. The facts are that any ONE of the strategies if adopted and pursued vigorously would have achieved far better results than they did. If they had gone for the radar systems, it would have been okay. If they had gone for the airfields that would have been okay. If they had gone for the aero factories, that would have been okay. If they had gone for terror bombing, that would have been okay. But to switch and change targets so many times was the mistake....the Germans didnt go for just one target, they went for all of them, and often their iontel was faulty as well Often they would bomb airfields that wernt being used for example

    For the record. 1 July, the RAF had the following Se fighters combat ready: 11Gp: 348, 12 Gp 113, 13 Gp; 178. If the germans had swung their main attack onto the British 3 weeks before, they would have faced less than 200 serviceable fighters.

    German fighter strength at both time was in the order of 700-850 se fighters. What they lacked in early were serviceable forward airbases.....

    By the end of October thye attrition was really taking its toll on the German Fighter arm. Last week of October saw them reach their nadir....with about 250 serviceable machine. Not sure what the Raf was listing asa serviceable, but it was in the area of 1000 to 1200
     
  14. Hop

    Hop Member

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    deleted because same figures given in reply to parsifal
     
  15. Waynos

    Waynos Active Member

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    According the information I have available, the break down of figures was as follows;

    Single seaters - LW 1107, RAF 754

    Two seaters - LW357, RAF 149

    Bombers - LW 1380, RAF 560

    Dive Bombers LW 428, RAF 0

    Serviceability rates for the single seaters are LW, 73%, RAF 71%

    In overall terms the RAF was outnumbered c.4.5 to 1 but in terms of single seat fighters only it was more like 1.5 to 1
     
  16. Hop

    Hop Member

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    Kurfurst has done what he has done frequently in the past. He has added together all RAF fighter types, including Defiants and Blenheims, and compared them against Bf 109s only. He has forgotten the several hundred Bf 110s that took part in the battle.

    You can of course argue that the Bf 110 wasn't much of a fighter, but it was better than the Defiant and Blenheim.

    The true comparison is Spitfires and Hurricanes vs 109s, or Spitfires, Hurricanes, Blenheims and Defiants against 109s and 110s (and Ju 88 fighters should be included as well, but I don't have the numbers for those)

    In early July the RAF had 814 fighters in 54 squadrons. However, 9 of those squadrons flew Blenheims and Defiants. That means fighter strength was approx:

    678 Spitfires and Hurricanes
    136 Defiants and Blenheims

    1,107 Bf 109s
    290 (approx) Bf 110s (I don't have 110 numbers for early in the battle, but on 10th July they had 289 deployed against Britain)

    A much larger proportion of the RAF was deployed outside the battle area.

    As you say, about 80 or so 109s were deployed in Norway. The RAF maintained about 19 Spitfire and Hurricane squadrons in the North, away from the battle. (out of a total of 45 - 50 squadrons)

    31st October the RAF had 626 Spitfires and Hurricanes operational.
     
  17. Kurfürst

    Kurfürst Banned

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    Yes, in June 1940... by August 10 they had 1106 fighters (749 servicable) with 1396 pilots. They also had 372 fighters in storage, ready to be issued.

    The Luftwaffe on 10 August had deployed 934 SE and 289 TE fighters, 1223 in total, of which 805/224 were servicable, or 1029 in total.

    Its difficult to see how the RAF FC was seriously outnumbered. It simply wasn't, and possessed all the advantages of fighting a defensive operation.

    These 'true' totals of yours are actually comparing servicable RAF fighters in June vs servicable+unservicable LW SE fighters in the end of June and TE fighters in mid-August..

    And not all of the Luftwaffe fighters stationed along the Channel were flying missions on every day, either. IIRC the maximum effort was flown on 15 September, with 600 fighter sorties a day by the Luftwaffe. The RAF flew around 1000 fighter sorties on most days with heavier actions.

    If you want to work out the ratio of fighters in the air, take a look at the sorties flown.

    Ie. Wood and Dempster shows 2355 LW fighter sorties flown between 1 and 8 September, and 875 between 9 and 15 September. Corresponding RAF fighter sorties were 5513 and 3152...

    RAF Fighter Command was flying a defensive fight with an equal number of fighters, and generally speaking, more fighter sorties flown.
     
  18. Vincenzo

    Vincenzo Active Member

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    on 28/09/40 the LW have 712 Bf 109 serviceable (with 676 ready pilots) , all the luftwaffe not only versus england
     
  19. Hop

    Hop Member

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    No. They are comparing all RAF fighters (Wood and Dempster give 814 fighters 29 June, 587 available for operations) against total Luftwaffe SE fighters on the same date. As I said, the 110 figures are from August because I don't have June's figures, but I suspect there would have been more in June, not less.

    I'll take your figures for the Luftwaffe.

    Serviceable fighters, 10th August:

    805 Bf 109s
    224 Bf 110s
    Total 1,029 Luftwaffe fighters (this excludes Ju 88 fighters, but what the hell)

    245 Spitfires
    382 Hurricanes
    Total 627
    60 Blenheims
    22 Defiants
    2 Gladiators
    Total 711 RAF fighters

    Certainly things had already started to turn the RAF's way by this point. Luftwaffe fighter strength had already begun its precipitous decline. After the first month or so of fighting, Luftwaffe front line strength was down by about 50 109s. The RAF was up by about 150 or so.

    Only the Wood and Dempster figures aren't sourced, and are quite close to the RAF's estimates of German sorties.

    Hooton, who sources his figures from the Luftwaffe records, shows 4,050 Luftwaffe fighter sorties 2 - 8 September.

    RAF sorties of course included those in the north, not in the battle area, as well as a lot of standing patrols.
     
  20. Kurfürst

    Kurfürst Banned

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    Hmm, the German bomber strenghts stayed pretty much the same during the whole Battle, starting it with almost 1400 bombers on strenght, and finishing it with a little over 1400.

    Fighter strenghts certainly fell, altough there was certainly more to it than just losses - the number of aircraft produced and lost was roughly equal during the four, but some units were transferred to others arms (nightfighters, for example), so there appears to be some 'statistical' loss, ie. fighter planes no longer showing up with daylight fighter listings, because they were now listed elsewhere. Even more odd is that they listed very few fighters on strenght in December, even though there was not much of a fighting in the preceeding months, and only very small losses, on both sides. It was probably that the fighters were removed from the frontline units, transferred to training and night units, and the less suited ones written down to aging, while the crew and pilots were doing their R&R in the Hinterland, and units prepearing to receive the new 109Fs.

    In contrast, Fighter Command's losses were even more severe, with 22.4% lost in August, and 24.4% in September.

    Interesting, I have seen references to this elsewhere. Can you please provide me a scan/shot of that page where he mentions this (OK in a PM too!), I would like to read his own words.

    This is a very false assessement of it IMHO - take a look at the depth the Germans went in organising their bombers fighter escort, for example! Teamwork tactics - this was what the Schwarm and Rotte was all about.. it was very flexible tactical unit, as opposed to the RAF's three plane formation, which was only about concentrating the firepower of three planes against an intercepted bomber, because of rather mistaken pre-war tactical beliefs about an insufficient firing envelope.
     
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