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Posts Tagged ‘Hawker Hurricane’

In the madness and chaos that is war, there have been many, many times when soldiers have shot at their own comrades, mistaking them for the enemy.  With his head down in a foxhole at night, it’s hard to know for sure if the guy approaching is on the same side.  Maybe a fellow Marine is out of position and his buddies open fire.  A fighter pilot may accidentally drop his bombs a little short of the target, spraying death among his own.  A tank may look, from a distance, like one belonging to the enemy.

We call these “friendly fire” incidents, and they drive commanders, politicians, and the general population crazy.

Back on September 6, 1939, the British called it The Battle of Barking Creek.

Having declared war on Germany for their invasion of Poland, the British war was now just three days old.  And since the war was being fought in Poland, British pilots hadn’t really seen the enemy, they hadn’t seen an enemy plane, they weren’t familiar with their own planes in combat, and they weren’t really used to air combat at all.

Not good.

So when the air raid sirens sounded, the Spitfires scrambled, looking for an enemy that, as it turns out, didn’t exist.  It was a false alarm.  But unbeknownst to the inexperienced pilots, some Pilot Officers flying Hawker Hurricanes were also sent up and followed from a distance.

And while you’d think the Spitfire guys would know what other planes in their own arsenal looked like, you’d be wrong in the thick of the first “air attack” of the war.  The guys flying the Hurricanes got mistaken for Germans flying Messerschmitts and were summarily attacked.  Both were shot down and one of the pilots was killed…the first British pilot to be killed in “combat” in World War II.

But as is the case with many of these tragic occurances, much was learned.  The British learned that some of their pilots were woefully inept at aircraft identification, and they learned that their radar systems weren’t nearly as good at identifying enemy aircraft formations as originally thought.  These lessons, brought about by unfortunate death, better prepared them for the time when enemy formations were really coming in anger…during the Battle of Britain.

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I needed to give a quick shout-out of congratulations to Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Jeremy Hellickson.  Called up from the Rays’ AAA affiliate to spot-start a couple of weeks ago, Jeremy did just more than just give the regular starters a night off…the 23-year-old’s first major-league start was a 7-inning thing of beauty, resulting in his first win.  Immediately optioned back to AAA, he was called up again eight days later, this time to shut down the Detroit Tigers for 7 innings.  And today?…6 innings, a 3rd quality start, and his 3rd win.  He’s now the first Rays pitcher to win his first 3 decisions as a pro.  And Jeremy is from the Des Moines area…it’s a feel-good, local-boy-makes-it story.  Way to go, Jeremy!!

August 15, 1940 later came to be known as “Black Thursday.”  But this important date in the Battle of Britain wasn’t named as such by the British, who had been defending their homeland against Luftwaffe bombers and fighters for weeks on end.

The term “Black Thursday” came from the German side, the side that since the fall of France in June had been preparing to invade England.  And it wasn’t named for the damage the Germans inflicted, but rather for that which they received.

The German plan was a coordinated attack aimed at airfields in the northern part of England and, on the surface, it made good sense.  Send fighters and dive-bombers across the Channel (from the east) to draw the Royal Air Force into the skies, where they would be shot down.  Then follow up with the heavier bombers (from Norway and Denmark to the north) to take out the airfields themselves.  It was nothing less than a full-out attempt to destroy Fighter Command.

German intelligence believed that recent attacks south of London would have drawn off significant forces, leaving the north less protected.  German intelligence was wrong.

But more than that, intelligence badly underestimated the number of airplanes left in the British inventory.  In his book With Wings Like Eagles, Michael Korda writes, “…despite Beppo Schmidt’s optimistic estimate that the British were down to about 200 fighters, Fighter Command in fact began August 15, at 0900 hours, with 672 serviceable fighters, of which 233 were Spitfires and 361 were Hurricanes.  These were not a lot with which to hold off more than 1,000 enemy aircraft, but a lot more than Goring supposed.”

The German planes came in bigger and bigger waves throughout the day.  RAF pilots in the north, jealous of their southern comrades who “got all the action”, were now suddenly presented with an unbelievable sight…the sky was filled with German bombers.  And even more tantalizing?…they were almost completely unescorted.

The RAF lads had a field day, slicing through bomber formations, blasting one heavy after another from the sky.  Most of the bombers simply dropped their bombs in the water and turned tail for home.  Hitting targets from 20,000 feet was their game.  Dodging fighters with no fighter protection at all was suicide.

The RAF flew 974 sorties that long day, losing 30 aircraft.  The Luftwaffe lost 75 aircraft.  Korda continues, “Even not counting the number of German aircraft that arrived home seriously damaged or obliged to crash-land on return, losses among the bombers and the twin-engine escorts were so high – approaching 10 percent, or twice what the RAF Bomber Command would consider an “acceptable” rate of loss – that Luftflotte 5 never again attempted a mass attack in daylight.”

These terrible results, combined with the poor results of Eagle Day (which we’ll cover someday) made it readily apparent that the German “softening up” for Operation Sealion wasn’t going nearly as well as hoped.

Recommended Reading:  With Wings Like Eagles

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