Edited by J. R. M. Butler


By Basil Collier


The authors of the Military Histories have been given full access to official documents. They and the editor are alone responsible for the statements made and the views expressed.


  Preface xv
Chapter I. Retrenchment and Air Defence (1918-1932) 1
Chapter II. Disarmament and Rearmament (1930-1938) 21
Chapter III. Maritime Defence (1918-1939) 49
Chapter IV. The Even of War (1938-1939) 63
Chapter V. The Opening Phase (September, 1939-May, 1940) 77
Chapter VI. Norway to Dunkirk (April-May, 1940) 97
Chapter VII. The Stocktaking (May, 1940) 119
Chapter VIII. After Dunkirk (June-August, 1940) 127
Chapter IX. The Battle of Britain: The Prelude (June-July, 1940) 147
Chapter X. The Battle of Britain: The Preliminary Phase (July-August, 1940) 163
Chapter XI. Operation SEALION (July-September, 1940) 175
Chapter XII. The Battle of Britain: The First Phase (13th-23rd August, 1940) 183
Chapter XIII. The Battle of Britain: The Second Phase (24th August-6th September, 1940) 203
Chapter XIV. The Invasion Risk: The Crisis and After (September, 1940-June,1941) 219
Chapter XV. The Battle of Britain: The Last Phase (7th September-31st October, 1940) 233
Chapter XVI. The Night Offensive Against London (7th September-13th November, 1940) 251
Chapter XVII. The Night Offensive Against British Industry and Communications (14th November, 1940-16th May, 1941; Summary 7th September, 1940-16th May, 1941) 261
Chapter XVIII. Blockade: Part One (October, 1940-June 1941) 283
Chapter XIX. Blockade: Part Two (June, 1941-October, 1943) 293
Chapter XX. The Dwindling Threat (The German Air Offensive 1942-1943) 303
Chapter XXI. The Watch on the Base (1943-1944) 321
Chapter XXII. The Threat from Long-Range Weapons (1939-1944) 331
Chapter XXIII. The Flying Bomb: Part One (1939-1944) 353
Chapter XXIV. The Flying Bomb: Part Two (1944-1945) 367
Chapter XXV. The Long-Range Rocket (1944-1945) 399
Chapter XXVI. A Summing-Up 423
  Index 529



I. British Naval Forces in Home Waters, 31st August, 1939 437
II. Equipment and Location of Coastal Command Squadrons, 31st August, 1939 438
III. Home Defences: Chain of Command, September, 1939 facing page 438
IV. British Capital Ships, 1st June, 1940 439
V. British Naval Forces in Home Waters, 1st July, 1940 440
VI. Organisation of the Air Defences, Summer, 1940 441
VII. Equipment and Location of British Fighter Squadrons, 9th July, 1940 442
VIII. Equipment and Location of Balloon Squadrons, 31 st July, 1940 445
IX. Disposition of Anti-Aircraft Guns, 11 th July, 1940 448
X. The Battle of Britain: the Preliminary Phase (Summary of Operations) 450
XI. Strength and Serviceability of Luftwaffe Units deployed for use against the United Kingdom, 10th August, 1940 452
XII. Equipment and Location of British Fighter Squadrons, 8th August, 1940 453
XIII. The Battle of Britain: the First Phase (Summary of Operations) 456
XIV. The Battle of Britain: the Second Phase (Summary of Operations) 458
XV. Night Attacks on Liverpool-Birkenhead, 28th-31st August, 1940: German Statistics 461
XVI. Coaching Mileage of the Four Main British Railway Companies, June-September, 1940 462
XVII. Equipment, Strength, Serviceability and Location of Luftwaffe Units deployed for use against the United Kingdom, 7th September, 1940 463
XVIII. Equipment and Location of Squadrons Available in Nos. 16 and 18 Groups, Coastal Command, for Anti-Invasion Duties, 26th September, 1940 468
XIX. Fixed Artillery Defences of Home Ports, November, 1940 469
XX. Equipment and Location of British Fighter Squadrons, 7th September, 1940 472
XXI. Equipment and Location of Balloon Squadrons, 31st August, 1940 475
XXII. Disposition of Anti-Aircraft Guns, 21st August and 11th September, 1940 479
XXIII. Some Problems and Achievements of Anti-Aircraft Gunnery during the Battle of Britain 482
XXIV. The Battle of Britain: the last Phase (Summary of Operations) 491
XXV. Numbers of Pilots and other Aircrew who lost their Lives in Battle during the Battle of Britain, 10th July-3ist October, 1940 493
XXVI. Night Attacks on London, 7th September-13th November, 1940: German Statistics 494
XXVII. Night Attacks on London: British Statistics showing Numbers of Bombs on London Boroughs from the Night of 7th October to the Night of 6th November, 1940 496
XXVIII. Summary of Operations against the United Kingdom by the Italian Air Force, October, 1940-April, 1941 499
XXIX. Equipment and Location of British Night-Fighter Squadrons, September-November, 1940 501
XXX. Notable Night Attacks on United Kingdom Cities, 14th November, 1940-16th May, 1941 503
XXXI. Tons of High-Explosive aimed at United Kingdom Cities in Major Night Attacks from the Night of 7th September, 1940, to the Night of 16th May, 1941 506
XXXII. Night Attacks on London: Numbers of High-Explosive Bombs to the Hundred Acres on some of the most heavily-bombed Boroughs 507
XXXIII. Equipment and Location of British Night-Fighter Squadrons, November, 1940-May, 1941 508
XXXIV. Analysis of British Night-Fighter Effort, January-May, 1941 510
XXXV. The Air War against British Coastal Shipping, November, 1940-December, 1941 511
XXXVI. The Führer's Order for the 'Baedeker' Offensive 512
XXXVII. Principal German Night Attacks, 1942 513
XXXVIII. Principal German Night Attacks, 1943 515
XXXIX. Notable Day Attacks by German Fighter-Bombers, 1943 517
XL. Angriffsführer England:Units under Command, 30th April, 1943 518
XLI. Angriffsführer England: Operational Bomber and Fighter-Bomber Units under Command, 20th January, 1944 519
XLII. The 'Baby Blitz' 520
XLIII. The A-4 Rocket: Technical Details 521
XLIV. Summary of Anglo-American Air Effort against suspected Flying-Bomb and Rocket Installations in Northern France, '5th December, 1943-12th June, 1944 522
XLV. The Flying-Bomb Offensive 523
XLVI. Analysis of Anglo-American Air Effort against suspected Flying-Bomb and Rocket Targets, 17th August, 1943-1st September, 1944 524
XLVII. Boroughs or Districts in London Civil Defence Region reporting Thirty or more Flying-Bomb 'Incidents' 525
XLVIII. Counties outside the London Civil Defence Region reporting Ten or more Flying-Bomb 'Incidents' 526
XLIX. The Long-Range Rocket Offensive 527
L. Civilian Casualties caused by Bombing and by Various other Forms of Long-Range Bombardment 528



    Facing page
1. The Steel-Bartholomew Plan of Air Defence (1923) 15

2. The Fifty-Two Squadron Scheme of Air Defence (1924) 16

3. The Reorientation Scheme of Air Defence (1935) 33

4. Organisation for Maritime Defence, 1939 49

5. Disposition of Home Forces, 1st May, 1940 85

6. Disposition of Eastern Command and G.H.Q,. Reserves, 31st May, 1940 119

7. G.H.Q. Line covering the principal Production Centres, June-July, 1940 129

8. Coastal Command Anti-Invasion Patrols, 16th July, 1940 133

9. Organisation for Home Defence, Summer, 1940 143

10. The Radar Chain and Observer Corps Network, July, 1940 149

11. Organisation of Luftwaffe Commands for the Battle of Britain, Summer, 1940 159

12. Disposition of British Fighter Forces, 9th July, 1940 161

13. The Revised SEALION Plan, September, 1940 175

14. Action on the Morning of 13th August, 1940 183

15. Action on the Afternoon of 13th August, 1940 187

16. Actions of the Tyne-Tees and the Humber, 15th August, 1940 191

17. Disposition of Home Forces, 11th September, 1940 219

18. Photographic Reproduction of German Intelligence Map showing supposed Disposition of Home Forces, 20th September, 1940 220

19. Coastal Command Anti-Invasion Patrols, 26th September, 1940 223

20. Disposition of Home Forces, May, 1941 229

21. Coastal Command Scheme of Anti-Shipping and General Reconnaissance Patrols, 20th December, 1940 231

22. Disposition of British Fighter Forces airborne at 5 p.m., 7th September, 1940 235

23. Disposition of British Fighter Forces airborne at 11.30 a.m., 15th September, 1940 244

24. Fighter Command Groups and Sectors, Spring, 1941 267

25. The Bombing of London, Night of 29th December, 1940 271

26. Distribution of Major Night Attacks on British Cities (1940-1941) 279

27. Disposition of Home Forces, Spring, 1942 293

28. The Bombing of Exeter, Night of 3rd May, 1942 303

29. The V-1 Organisation, June-September, 1944 367

30. Proposed V-2 Organisation, June, 1944 399

31. V-2 Launching Areas used for the Bombardment of the United Kingdom, September, 1944-March, 1945 405

32. General Map of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland In pocket at the end of the book



{Imperial War Museum)

Plate   Facing page
1. Air attack on British Warships in the Firth of Forth, 16th October, 1939 84
2. Preparing to fire a 3-7-inch Mark II Anti-Aircraft Gun (Static Mounting) 85
3. Beach Defences on the Coast of Kent: a Concealed Machine-Gun Point at Dymchurch 104
4. Coast Defence Gunners preparing to fire a Practice Round from a g-2-inch Gun 104
5. Obstructions to prevent the landing of Gliders or Troop-Carrying Aircraft on a Bypass Road in Surrey 105
6. A Camouflaged Strong Point in Northern Command 105
7. Hudson Aircraft of Coastal Command on Patrol over the North Sea 140
8. Destroyers on Patrol off the East Coast 140
9. General Sir Edmund Ironside, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Home Forces, May-July, 1940 141
10. General Sir Alan Brooke, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Home Forces, July, 1940-December, 1941 141
11. Spitfires of a Fighter Command Squadron 168
12. Air attack on a British Convoy in the English Channel, 14th July, 1940 168
13. Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Fighter Command, 1936-1940 169
14. Air Vice-Marshal K. R. Park, Air Officer Commanding. No. 11 Group, Fighter Command, April-December, 1940 169
15. An Observer Corps (later Royal Observer Corps) Post at Work 192
16. A Barrage-Balloon Close-Hauled 192
17. German Bombers above the Thames near Woolwich, 7th September, 1940 236
18. Polish Pilots of Fighter Command at Readiness in their Dispersal Hut 236
19. A 25-pounder Field Gun in Action during a Practice Shoot 237
20. An Anti-Aircraft Rocket Projector in Action (3-inch U.P. Single Projector) 237
21. The City of London on the morrow of 29th December, 1940 273
22. The Guildhall, York, during the 'Baedeker' Raid on the night of 28th April, 1942 308
23. Air Marshal R. M. (later Sir Roderic) Hill, Air Marshal Commanding, Air Defence of Great Britain, 1943-1944, and Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Fighter Command, 1944-1945 309
24. Lieutenant-General (later General) Sir Frederick Pile, Bt., General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Anti-Aircraft Command, 1939-1945 309
25. German Flying Bomb immediately after Launching 336
26. German Long-Range Rocket A-4 in process of elevation to Firing Position 336
27. German Flying Bomb about to descend near Drury Lane in London 384
28. German Flying Bomb engaged and brought down at Night by Anti-Aircraft Fire 384
29. German Flying Bomb Storage Depot at Saint-Leu-d'Esserent 385
  Reproduction of Bilingual Notice prepared by the Germans for use after Invasion of this Country 180



THE DEFENCE of the United Kingdom is a wide subject. Hitherto no official historian, at least in recent times, has approached it from an inter-service viewpoint. In apportioning my space between its various aspects, in deciding what to include and what to leave out, I have had no modern precedent to guide me. I have made my own choice within the framework of limitations necessarily imposed on a contributor to a series of inter-related volumes, and with valuable assistance from the Editor and his Advisory Panel of senior officers drawn from all three fighting Services. I have been given full access to official records, but in making use of them have respected the requirements of military 'security' and the constitutional principle which forbids discussion of individual differences of opinion within Cabinets or disregard of Civil Service anonymity.

During the Second World War three great dangers confronted the United Kingdom. The first was starvation through severance of our sea communications--a potent threat to a country long accustomed to import much of its food and to pay for it largely from the proceeds of an export trade involving a constant outward flow of manufactured goods and an inward flow of raw materials. The second danger was invasion, which came nearer in 1940 than at any time since the Napoleonic Wars, or perhaps, if we disregard the bloodless landing of William of Orange in Tor Bay, since the perilous days of the Armada. The third danger was air attack. At no stage did bombing seriously threaten the country with defeat through collapse of the national will to fight; but in 1940 the German air force made a formidable attempt to crush the air defences as a prelude to invasion--or even, as some of our opponents hoped, to the unopposed occupation of a land already subjugated by Reichsmarschall Goring and his airmen.

At the outset of my task it was made clear to me that I should be expected to give little space to the defence of ocean trade in view of a decision to devote a number of volumes to the war at sea. I have willingly left it to a naval colleague to review, with expert knowledge, the progress of the struggle against the submarine, the surface raider and the long-range ocean-going aircraft. Inevitably I have made some references to these matters; and I am grateful to Captain Roskill for showing me parts of his draft and reading parts of mine. These references are, of course, much briefer and less numerous than they would have been but for the decision to treat the war at sea as


a separate subject. It would be regrettable if their brevity and rarity were thought to imply that, in the opinion of any responsible historian, the defence of ocean trade can safely be ignored by strategists concerned with the defence of the United Kingdom. In fact no aspect 6f home defence, in the widest and best sense of that term, has been more important in modern times.

Defence against invasion is likewise a field where the interests of the historian of home defence may impinge on those of the naval historian. Just as one of the two great tasks traditionally devolving on the Royal Navy is to protect the merchant shipping which links Britain with the outside world, so the other is to challenge any attempt to land a hostile force on these shores. Both are strategically offensive, although often they provide opportunities for offensive tactics. A measure designed to serve one of these purposes frequently serves the other also. Destroyers and aircraft watching off the East Coast for an invader, battleships and cruisers chasing commerce-raiders in the South Atlantic, ships of the line engaging the enemy in Aboukir Bay or off Cape Trafalgar may alike, in the eyes of a strategist to whom the seas are one, be engaged in defence of the home country. But a writer on home defence may need to accept a narrower definition of his province. In practice I have suffered no hardship from this restriction. Notwithstanding the impossibility of drawing a continuous line of demarcation between defence against invasion and the defence of trade, it was always clear that many naval measures, related to home defence in its wider interpretation, might be touched upon in the present volume but could be best described at length elsewhere, and that others--including some whose manifest aim was home defence in the narrower sense--ought to be regarded as common ground.

Accordingly the knowledge that naval measures to resist invasion were not my exclusive province has not debarred me from treating them at such length as I have thought appropriate. If my treatment appears more summary than the traditional role of the Royal Navy as the country's prime defender against an assailant who comes by sea may seem to warrant, the reason is simply that I have judged it unnecessary, and even undesirable, to dwell long on that aspect of my subject. The essence of naval planning is that plans should be elastic. To give more prominence than I have given to measures contemplated, at one stage or another, by the Admiralty and naval Commanders-in-Chief for the reception of an invasion fleet that never sailed might have been misleading. What shape would have been assumed by such naval actions as might have followed the sailing of that fleet, who can say? Perhaps the one assertion that can be made with confidence is that it would not have conformed to preconceptions which the wisest did not allow to take possession of their minds.


In the outcome the issue of invasion or no invasion was decided not at sea but in the air. It is conceivable that, if the Luftwaffe's attempt to gain air superiority over southern England and the English Channel had succeeded, Hitler might still have hesitated, as did his predecessors from Parma to Napoleon, to trust his transports to waters not commanded by his fleet. More probably he would have chanced his arm as he did in Norway, France and Russia. What is certain is that the victory won by our air defences deprived him of all choice.

While, therefore, I have given a good deal of my space to the enemy's preparations to land troops in this country and--with the proviso made above--to steps taken by the Royal Navy and Home Forces to oppose them, I have given still more to air attacks on the United Kingdom and corresponding measures of air defence. If the Battle of Britain was not the most important action ever fought by British arms--and posterity may well deem it so--its effects were certainly no less momentous than those of the most striking victories of Hawke or Nelson. I have thought it right to review the battle in some detail, and no less desirable to sketch, against the background of political events, the period of preparation that began with the adoption of a scheme of air defence soon after the end of the First World War.

Strategically, the succession of night attacks on this country which began before the daylight battle was well launched and continued almost until the end of the war with Germany was less important. A German victory in the daylight battle might have made the United Kingdom indefensible; the night 'Blitz' and its aftermath never brought the enemy within sight of inflicting a decisive stroke. But the raids had such profound and memorable effects on the fives of most of us that to slight them would have been a blunder. The flying bomb and the long-range rocket failed, in their turn, to bring much comfort to the enemy ; but their novelty, their challenge to the ingenuity of those called upon to assess and act upon the threat they offered, their potential value to an enemy more favourably placed than were the Germans by the time they brought them into use, all qualify them for much more than passing mention. Some account of their early development seemed essential; and here I was fortunate in having access not only to much published and unpublished material about the rocket but also to new matter kindly laid before me by Dr. Fritz Gosslau, who was closely associated with the birth and progress of the rival weapon.

Civil defence is the subject of a volume with that title, contributed by Major Terence H. O'Brien to the United Kingdom Civil Series of official histories edited by Sir Keith Hancock. I have therefore made only brief references in my volume to civil defence matters,


notwithstanding their obvious relevance to my subject. Major O'Brien generously allowed me to see his book while it was yet unpublished; he also read the draft of some of my chapters and shared with me his knowledge of certain facts and figures of interest to both of us.

Unpublished documents have provided the bulk of my sources and have been placed unreservedly at my disposal. Detailed citation in a published volume of documents not generally available for study would serve no useful purpose even if it were desirable on other grounds; for the benefit of students who have access to the sources references are given in a limited number of copies which such readers will be able to consult. Nevertheless I must record here my particular debt to the authors of certain monographs and narratives prepared in the Cabinet Office Historical Section and the Air Historical Branch of the Air Ministry under the direction of Brigadier H. B. Latham and Mr. J. C. Nerney respectively. Mr. Nerney and his staff have been indefatigable in searching the records on my behalf and he has given me much help and encouragement. For valuable comments and for checking certain facts and figures--for whose accuracy, however, I alone am answerable--I am grateful to Rear-Admiral R. M. Bellairs of the Historical Section of the Admiralty, to Brigadier Latham and Mr. Nerney and to many other officers and officials, some of them unknown to me, in various departments of the administration. My task would have been impossible without the generous help of Mr. Brian Melland of the Cabinet Office and Squadron Leader Louis Jackets of the Air Historical Branch, who have sought out and translated or digested for my benefit a vast mass of material. I owe thanks, too, to others who have worked under their supervision, and in particular to Mr. R. R. A. Wheatley for a paper on German invasion plans, on which I have drawn in Chapters XI and XIV.

I have had the advantage of receiving comments and suggestions from Commanders-in-Chief, Chiefs of Staff, members of wartime governments and other actors in my story who very kindly read my drafts in whole or part. I cannot sufficiently express my gratitude to them for the generous gift of their time and special knowledge. Several of these commentators, and also some distinguished wartime leaders who had no opportunity of reading my drafts, were good enough to discuss points with me and give me the benefit of their experience. Such contributions did much to amplify, and sometimes correct, impressions drawn from documentary sources or from observation at a less exalted level. These generous helpers do not, of course, share the responsibility of Editor and author for statements made and views expressed. If I do not mention here the names of most of them, it is because I believe they would rather rest content with


private gratitude than figure in a list whose length might tire the reader's patience. Even so I venture to record my appreciation of the pains taken to elucidate particular topics by Lord Hankey, Field-Marshal Lord Ironside, General Sir Bernard Paget and Lieutenant-General Sir John Swayne.

Reference is made in footnotes to published works in rare cases where such material has been relied upon as a primary source, or where courtesy demands that course. I apologise to any authors whose brains I may unwittingly have picked without acknowledgement.

The sources of the illustrations are given in the appropriate list. To all those concerned I tender thanks. For providing most of the photographs I am indebted to the Director General of the Imperial War Museum, and for doing much to guide my choice to the Deputy Director, Mr. A. J. Charge. The maps were drawn under the direction of Colonel T. M. M. Penney of the Cabinet Office, who has been most helpful.

My biggest debt is to the Editor.

B. C.

22nd October, 1956.


Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation