Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Goering holds a strategy meeting August 1940

Towards the end of August 1940 Goering held another top level conference of Luftwaffe commanders. The senior officers pored over the combat reports, intelligence analyses and other documents before discussing how best to complete the destruction of RAF Fighter Command in southeastern England. The results of that conference proved to be disastrous for Britain and came very close to handing victory to the Luftwaffe in what was now being seen by both sides as The Battle of Britain.

The first fact acknowledged by the Luftwaffe high command was that their intelligence reports were faulty. The strength of Fighter Command in terms of modern fighters had been badly underestimated, so that no matter how many Hurricanes and Spitfires were shot down there were still plenty more coming up to replace them. In fact the intelligence reports had not been so far of the mark as the Germans supposed. They had estimated fairly accurately the strength of Fighter Command, but had got wrong the speed with which Britain could turn out new fighters.

Goering, as a highly experienced fighter pilot from the First World War, would have known that in the hectic swirl of war flying it is quite easy for fighter pilots to claim to have shot down more enemy aircraft than in fact they had. Even when being completely honest, a fighter pilot might claim as destroyed an enemy aircraft that was in fact badly damaged and managed to limp  home. Or two pilots might claim the same victim as they both fired at it as it went down. What was almost impossible to know was the ratio at which the overclaiming occurred. After the war historians compared the records of both sides and found that the British had been overclaiming by about 1.7 to 1 (the ratio was later to rise) at this period while the Germans overclaimed by about 2 to 1.

If the actual aircraft were not being destroyed as fast as hoped, neither were the airfields. The efficiency of repair crews meant that the RAF could get fighter bases back into operation much faster than the Germans thought possible. After a heavy bombing raid the Luftwaffe marked an airbase as destroyed, and estimated it would take at least two weeks to get it working again. In fact most Fighter Command airfields were back in at least partial operation within a day or two.

from Heroes of Fighter Command Sussex by Rupert Matthews
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