As the long winter nights began to shorten, Air Marshal Sholto Douglas began to lay his plans for the coming months. It was widely believed that Hitler had postponed the invasion of Britain until the spring of 1941. At some point, it was thought, a new Battle of Britain would break out as the Germans once again sought to achieve air supremacy over the English Channel and surrounding areas. Douglas began to lay his preparations to face the expected onslaught.
Meanwhile, the night bomber campaign continued. London was hit night after night for weeks on end, while other towns and cities receive the attentions of the Luftwaffe less often. RAF night fighter squadrons were concentrated in the south and east to catch the bombers as they flew over the coast, both coming and going. A few squadrons were, however, stationed close to major cities such as Liverpool and Bristol to attack bombers as they closed in on these targets.
However both Douglas and Leigh-Mallory were veterans of fighter squadrons in World War I, when they were known as Scout Squadrons. That war had ground on for years while being fought across a very static battleground around the trenches of the Western Front. When Douglas and Leigh-Mallory had been flying towards the end of that war it had been usual for British scouts to fly into the skies over the German rear areas to strafe ground targets, seek out German aircraft and generally make a nuisance of themselves. Now, they thought, it was time to do the same to the Germans in France with the Channel taking the place of the static trenches.
The way had been shown as early as December 1940 when two pilots of No.66Squadron had flown their Spitfires over the Channel to shoot up the Luftwaffe base at Le Touquet airfield. Douglas issued an order allowing any pilots who fancied taking part in such a mission to do so. They had to ask permission of their Group HQ, giving details of intended targets and time of raid. Given that 11 Group was commanded by Leigh-Mallory permission was usually given so long as there was plenty of cloud about in which the aircraft could seek shelter if they ran into heavy opposition. These missions became known as Rhubarbs.
from "Heroes of RAF Fighter Command - Sussex" by Rupert Matthews
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