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Air Combat after the Battle of France and Before the Battle of Britain

The period between the French capitulation (25 June 1940) and the start of the Battle of Britain (10 July 1940) is mostly forgotten but it was intense. On 27 June, the Luftwaffe ordered an extensive reconnaissance of the British Isles and the next day the British released the first report on ‘Knickebein”, the secret German radio navigation aid, at a time where the Blitz was months away.

On 1 July, Goering ordered the Luftwaffe to redeploy to attack Britain and British fighters shot down eight German reconnaissance aircraft, making it clear how vulnerable their recon a/c were. Radar stations had easily picked the Do 215s and Do 17s which were flying at medium altitude. The British had no problem catching the slow, undefended German aircraft and bringing them down.

RAF’s Bomber Command was busy every day and night of this period as well and this day was no exception. It attacked unsuccessfully the battleship Scharnhorst (which had sunk the HMS Glorious aircraft carrier and was now in repairs in Kiel) in the morning. Hampdens attacked again in the evening and FO Guy Gibson (famous because of the Dam attack) released the first 2000 lb. bomb used in the war, but it overshot and hit the town. Ten German civilians died, although it is not possible to establish the number of bombs that hit the city.

Two days later, a Blenheim from BC bombed a residential neighborhood in Hamburg in daylight killing eleven children playing in the street and eight adults. Since the attacked area was 5 km from the docks it caused anger in Germany (in contrast to the Kiel attack which was understood as collateral damage).

The next day (4 Jul) the Germans launched the first heavy attack against the British Isles, the target was the naval base at Portland where Ju 87s sunk an AA cruiser killing 176 sailors.

On 7th July, the Luftwaffe started appearing over Britian in higher numbers at night. Between the 7th and the 14th, the Germans conducted careful bombing attacks on military targets. Only three civilians were killed.

On the eighth, Churchill told Lord Beaverbrook that "only one factor would defeat the enemy -'an absolutely devastating, exterminating attack by very heavy bombers upon the Nazi homeland" setting the mood for what was to follow.

A mixed formation of 12 Bristol Blenheim Mk.IV (from 21 Squadron and 57 Squadron) took off from Lossiemouth at 0800 on 9 July, to bomb targets in the Stavanger area, Norway.  Bf 109E from II./JG 77 (see the picture) and Bf 110C from I./ZG 76 intercepted and shot down seven while claiming 13. BC lost 35 bombers in this period.

The next day, the Battle of Britain started.

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