The Battle of Britain: Adlertag

By the first week of August 1940, it was obvious to the Germans that the costal convoy and port attacks were not going to lure the RAF into a battle over the channel where it could be destroyed. Herman Goring ordered the Luftwaffe to attack targets in Southern England which he believed would bring the RAF to battle. He was correct and Air Marshall Dowding unleashed his fighters on the Luftwaffe.

The revised plan was named Adlerangriff, or “Eagle Attack” and 13 August 1940 was designated Adlertag or “Eagle Day”. Luftwaffe bombers struck a variety of targets including airfields, radar stations, and aircraft factories in order to bring the RAF up to fight. Adlerangriff’s climax was actually very early in the battle: 15 August was declared Der Groesste Tag or The Greatest Day because of the sheer number of German sorties flown and the number of casualties on both sides. Nonetheless, it was a straight attritional battle, and although the Germans had more planes, the flaws in Adlerangriff became readily apparent.

Dowding’s early warning system proved to be much more resilient than expected. The radar towers were very difficult to damage much less destroy, and their ancillary and supporting systems were not targeted, such as telephone exchanges and power stations. Also, the slow Ju87 Stuka dive bombers were massacred in the air, and any bombers escorted by the big and ungainly Bf 110 fighter/bombers were likewise swept from the sky. Furthermore, since the battles mostly took place over England, any downed Allied pilots could be back with their squadrons in hours, unlike German pilots whom became POWs. Finally, the scattershot nature of the targets severely limited the effectiveness of the bombers, and did not complement the many victories scored by the fighters. It would take two weeks before the Luftwaffe High Command figured out that the key to defeating the RAF was not shooting down its planes but destroying its airfields.

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