13 August 1940 ‘Eagle Day’

The 13thAugust 1940 was supposed to be the beginning of the end for Fighter Command. The Luftwaffe had spent the previous day attacking coastal radar stations,“softening up” Fighter Command’s defences, but now they had laid plans for massive, multiple attacks against aerodromes in the south-east, having picked their targets following intelligence reports from their own reconnaissance force. The RAF would be destroyed on the ground and any aircraft that offered resistance would be shot down. Unfortunately for the Luftwaffe, their intelligence reports were largely inaccurate, making no distinction between the airfields of Fighter Command, Coastal Command or even Training Command. The natural consequence of this was that their chosen targets were not nearly as significant as they believed.

“Adlertag”(Eagle Day), as the Luftwaffe had named it, began misty with rain and cloud, which made the Luftwaffe’s task even more difficult. At the last moment Göring postponed the operation until the afternoon, hoping that the weather would improve. But it was too late for some units, who had already departed across the Channel. 74 Dornier 17s and approximately 20 Junkers 88s failed to get the message, but their fighter escorts did receive it and so stayed at home. This left the two bomber formations incredibly vulnerable to attack. The Junkers 88s were especially easy pickings for squadron numbers 43, 64 and 601, whose onslaught turned them back towards France before they had reached their target. The Dornier 17s were intercepted by squadron numbers 74, 111 and 151 but unfortunately still reached and bombed their target at RAF Eastchurch, where 12 people were killed by bombs and five aircraft destroyed on the ground. It had been a far less successful morning than the Luftwaffe had expected, though it had still been difficult for the RAF.

The weather did not improve in the afternoon as Göring had hoped for, but units were detailed to attack anyway. An enemy formation approaching Portland was intercepted around lunchtime and no bombs were dropped. Later, three waves of German aircraft attacked the south-west of England: a large formation of fighters first, followed by Junkers 87 “Stuka” divebombers escorted by Messerschmitt 110s, then finally a formation of Junkers 88s. The fighter sweep was intercepted by Hurricanes from squadron numbers 152 and 213, while the Stukas and their escort were attacked by more Hurricanes from 238 Squadron and Spitfires from 609 Squadron. The Spitfires were particularly effective, shooting down nine Stukas and one Messerschmitt, with one pilot remarking: “The glorious 13th was the best day’s shooting I ever had.” Sadly, the Junkers 88s arrived over Southampton without too much resistance and caused serious damage on the ground, starting several large fires around the docks.

In the south-east, another Luftwaffe attack was directed at RAF Detling and Rochester. Stukas were again involved, divebombing Detling whilst escorted by Messerschmitt 109s. The Messerschmitts were engaged but the Stukas went unmolested. The force that attacked Rochester consisted of 12 Heinkel 111s escorted by 30 Messerschmitt 110s. Again, RAF squadrons attacked the fighters but could not reach the bombers, but Rochester escaped serious damage anyway, mainly thanks to cloud.

In total the Luftwaffe lost 45 aircraft on Eagle Day and only shot down 13 RAF fighters, although they did destroy five others on the ground at Eastchurch. Needless to say, the Luftwaffe’s showpiece offensive had ended in utter failure.

RAF UK MoD press release