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The Anniversary of The Channel Dash - 1942 - and the wider RN Fleet Air Arm during the Second World War

Yokel

LE

'A Stirring Memory' - The Anniversary of the Channel Dash

On this day in 1942, the Royal Navy attempted to stop a breakout by the core of Hitler's Navy from Brest to Germany - the 'Channel Dash', a date which has entered Fleet Air Arm history.

With its vast natural harbour – 70 square miles in all, formed by the convergence of three rivers – and easy access to the Atlantic via the narrow strait, the Goulet, the Breton city of Brest had been a vital naval base since the days of Cardinal Richelieu, home first to the La Royale, and later Marine nationale.

In the summer of 1940, came a new inhabitant: the Kriegsmarine, which regarded the port as its greatest prize when France fell to the seemingly-unstoppable German Army.

No longer did the great ships of the German Navy have to run the gauntlet of the North Sea between the Shetlands and Norway, or the Iceland Gap. From the Atlantic shores of France, they could strike at the supply lines of the British Empire.

Or at least that was how the leaders of the German Navy viewed the ports of France in the summer of 1940. The reality proved to be very different – for the German surface fleet especially.

Brest in particular became not a sword lunging into the Atlantic but a sanctuary for German warships escaping the clutches of the Royal Navy.

It was to Brest that the sisters Scharnhorst and Gneisenau – the British determined the 38,000-ton leviathans with their nine 11in guns apiece were battle-cruisers, the Germans insisted they were Schlachtschiffe, battleships – had fled after a two-month-long sortie in early 1941.

It was for Brest that the damaged Bismarck made in May that year. The torpedo of one Swordfish bomber and the guns of the Home Fleet ensured she never got there – but her escorting heavy cruiser, Prinz Eugen, did reach Brittany.....


BREAK

At 12.25pm precisely, six Swordfish – codenamed F, G, H, K, L and M – with 18 souls – one pilot, one observer and one telegraphist air gunner apiece – lumbered into the Kentish sky and sluggishly climbed to 1,500 feet where they circled for four minutes awaiting the five RAF squadrons.

Only one appeared. Ten aircraft. Spitfires. The other four squadrons failed to materialise. With time pressing, Esmonde signalled the other five torpedo bombers. They set an easterly course and struck out over the Channel, dropping to 50ft. They expected to run into the German warships two dozen miles east of Ramsgate.

Beneath “grey and scudding clouds” telegraphist Reg Mitchell and his shipmates on MTB 48 saw the Swordfish pass overhead – at the very moment the German Fleet came into view. At that very moment Mitchell’s radio gave up, a fact he reported to his skipper, Tony Law. “Come up top and grab a rifle or something,” Law advised.

The escorting Spitfires of 72 Squadron were struggling to provide cover for the plodding torpedo bombers and weaved constantly to prevent losing contact.

The weaving was of little use. Fifteen – or maybe 20 – Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs dived out of the clouds, past the Spitfires and pounced on the tails of all six Swordfish, damaging at least three of the biplanes.

From MTB 48, Reg Mitchell could clearly see the German fighters with their landing gear down and flaps extended, and he could hear the pilots gunning their engines to prevent stalling – and prevent them overshooting the Swordfish. To Mitchell it seemed the Germans “were queuing up to get a shot at them”.

Whilst trying to keep the Focke-Wulfs and Messerschmitts at bay, Spitfire pilot Michael Crombie’s eye was caught by Esmonde’s bomber fending off repeated waves of attacks, its gunner PO William ‘Clints’ Clinton responding to the 20mm cannon of the German fighters with his much-less-potent Lewis machine-gun. When tracer set the tailplane alight, the senior rating left his cockpit and clambered along the fuselage to beat the flames out before returning to his seat to continue the struggle against the foe.

For seven or eight minutes, all six Swordfish came under sustained attack – and yet all six were still airborne. Perhaps they might succeed. They pressed on and when the German warships came into sight, Esmonde turned towards them.

A couple of Me109s buzzed Reg Mitchell’s torpedo boat. They were barely 40ft above the water – low enough for the 18-year-old to clearly see the German pilots. They grinned at the crew of MTB48 – but didn’t open fire. “They obviously all thought we were pathetic and insignificant,” Mitchell recalled.

Through the loudspeakers of the Prinz Eugen a tinny voice: Aircraft, bearing 240 degrees, four low-flying aircraft, biplanes, torpedo bombers! The broadcast, Paul Schmalenbach recalled, “electrified” the cruiser’s crew.

On the bridge of the Scharnhorst, Otto Ciliax was unperturbed. “The English are now throwing their mothball navy at us,” he observed acidly

In aircraft ‘G’, observer Edgar Lee watched as the anti-aircraft – or flak – guns on the escorting forces opened fire. The guns did not belch with full fury, however, for fear of hitting their own fighters.

Even with subdued fury, the German fire was fearful. The lower left wing of Esmonde’s Swordfish was all but shot away, his gunner dead, the canvas on the fuselage torn away, yet the rugged bomber flew on. It closed to within 3,000 yards – a little over one and a half miles – of the heavy ships.

It got no further. It plunged into the Channel. Edgar Lee thought it was shot down by a fighter. Prinz Eugen’s flak gunners were convinced they had downed the Swordfish. Nor is there agreement over whether Esmonde launched his torpedo. If he did, it failed to find a target.

Swordfish ‘G’ and ‘L’, following Esmonde, faired little better. L flew so low that bullets ricocheted off the waves and peppered the fuselage. Part of the upper wing caught fire, two engine cylinders were shot away, so too the floor beneath gunner Don Bunce who was forced to brace himself against the fuselage to avoid falling into the Channel. As for L’s pilot, S/Lt Pat Kingsmill was shot in the back, his observer ‘Mac’ Samples was also wounded.

Once again the Swordfish demonstrated its legendary ability to take punishment. It flew on. Bunce brought down at least one German fighter while Kingsmill turned the bomber 360 degrees to evade the Luftwaffe before bringing his aircraft to bear on the Prinz Eugen.

There is no dispute about Kingsmill’s torpedo. It launched and passed just astern of the heavy cruiser which moved violently as it took evasive action.

As for the aircraft, it turned for home but would never get there. Another hit detonated the aircraft’s distress flares and possibly wrecked the dinghy. With no hope of returning to base, Kingsmill sought to ditch. He was just about to do so when he realised the motor boats swarming just a few hundred yards away were German, not British. He continued until the Bristol Pegasus engine finally gave up then set the Swordfish down in the sea. The three crew spent ten minutes in the water before a British MTB rescued them.

Swordfish ‘G’ had also got its torpedo away after an equally horrific run-in. Pilot Brian Rose was badly wounded in the back. He and observer Edgar Lee were badly affected by fumes from the punctured fuel tank. At around 2,000 yards from the main German force, Rose released his torpedo, probably at the Gneisenau, observed its run briefly, then turned. The aircraft passed over the outer screen of destroyers but got no further, crashing into the sea. Lee freed himself, then the badly-injured Rose, helping the pilot into the dinghy. He could do nothing for gunner Ambrose Johnson, slumped over his gun and trapped in his seat. The Channel swallowed the Swordfish whole, taking Johnson with it.

The fate of the remaining three torpedo bombers is even more bleak. Lee last saw the three aircraft pressing home their attack on the Prinz Eugen, jinking wildly to avoid the flak. All three were shot out of the sky. Not one man survived and only one body was ever recovered.

Thus ended the Fleet Air Arm’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’. It achieved nothing, save to add a bitter but brave chapter to the annals of naval aviation. Having brushed aside the ‘mothball navy’ just minutes before, the icy Otto Ciliax reflected on the attack. The “handful of ancient planes” had been “piloted by men whose bravery surpasses any other action by either side that day”.
 
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Nothing says more about bravery than when it is praised by the enemy you're trying to kill. A day of legends for the FAA.
 

joey88

Old-Salt
Respect
IMG_20210212_183748_178.jpg
 

Yokel

LE
Although then portrayed as a debacle by the press, it was the last time that the Kreigsmarine sorties multiple heavy units.

Eugene Esmonde had already been decorated for his role in the action against the Bismarck. One of the RN Historic Flight Swordish is painted with the markings of his aircraft.
 
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joey88

Old-Salt
Although then portrayed as a debacle by the press, it was the last time that the Kreigsmarine sorties multiple heavy units.

Eugene Edmonde had already been decorated for his role in the action against the Bismarck. One of the RN Historic Flight Swordish is painted with the markings of his aircraft.
Collected his DSO 11th February 1942.
 
Incredible bravery.
RIP.
 
another model at some point........
 
Both battlecruisers struck mines after passing Dover. Gneisenau hit one that caused little damage, but enough to put her in dock at Kiel. On 26 February, the day that the repairs were finished, she was hit by one bomb on the forecastle that blew A turret off its mounting. Despite plans to repair her, she never went to sea again. Scharnhorst hit two which put her out of action until January 1943.
 

joey88

Old-Salt

'A Stirring Memory' - The Anniversary of the Channel Dash

On this day in 1942, the Royal Navy attempted to stop a breakout by the core of Hitler's Navy from Brest to Germany - the 'Channel Dash', a date which has entered Fleet Air Arm history.

With its vast natural harbour – 70 square miles in all, formed by the convergence of three rivers – and easy access to the Atlantic via the narrow strait, the Goulet, the Breton city of Brest had been a vital naval base since the days of Cardinal Richelieu, home first to the La Royale, and later Marine nationale.

In the summer of 1940, came a new inhabitant: the Kriegsmarine, which regarded the port as its greatest prize when France fell to the seemingly-unstoppable German Army.

No longer did the great ships of the German Navy have to run the gauntlet of the North Sea between the Shetlands and Norway, or the Iceland Gap. From the Atlantic shores of France, they could strike at the supply lines of the British Empire.

Or at least that was how the leaders of the German Navy viewed the ports of France in the summer of 1940. The reality proved to be very different – for the German surface fleet especially.

Brest in particular became not a sword lunging into the Atlantic but a sanctuary for German warships escaping the clutches of the Royal Navy.

It was to Brest that the sisters Scharnhorst and Gneisenau – the British determined the 38,000-ton leviathans with their nine 11in guns apiece were battle-cruisers, the Germans insisted they were Schlachtschiffe, battleships – had fled after a two-month-long sortie in early 1941.

It was for Brest that the damaged Bismarck made in May that year. The torpedo of one Swordfish bomber and the guns of the Home Fleet ensured she never got there – but her escorting heavy cruiser, Prinz Eugen, did reach Brittany.....


BREAK

At 12.25pm precisely, six Swordfish – codenamed F, G, H, K, L and M – with 18 souls – one pilot, one observer and one telegraphist air gunner apiece – lumbered into the Kentish sky and sluggishly climbed to 1,500 feet where they circled for four minutes awaiting the five RAF squadrons.

Only one appeared. Ten aircraft. Spitfires. The other four squadrons failed to materialise. With time pressing, Esmonde signalled the other five torpedo bombers. They set an easterly course and struck out over the Channel, dropping to 50ft. They expected to run into the German warships two dozen miles east of Ramsgate.

Beneath “grey and scudding clouds” telegraphist Reg Mitchell and his shipmates on MTB 48 saw the Swordfish pass overhead – at the very moment the German Fleet came into view. At that very moment Mitchell’s radio gave up, a fact he reported to his skipper, Tony Law. “Come up top and grab a rifle or something,” Law advised.

The escorting Spitfires of 72 Squadron were struggling to provide cover for the plodding torpedo bombers and weaved constantly to prevent losing contact.

The weaving was of little use. Fifteen – or maybe 20 – Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs dived out of the clouds, past the Spitfires and pounced on the tails of all six Swordfish, damaging at least three of the biplanes.

From MTB 48, Reg Mitchell could clearly see the German fighters with their landing gear down and flaps extended, and he could hear the pilots gunning their engines to prevent stalling – and prevent them overshooting the Swordfish. To Mitchell it seemed the Germans “were queuing up to get a shot at them”.

Whilst trying to keep the Focke-Wulfs and Messerschmitts at bay, Spitfire pilot Michael Crombie’s eye was caught by Esmonde’s bomber fending off repeated waves of attacks, its gunner PO William ‘Clints’ Clinton responding to the 20mm cannon of the German fighters with his much-less-potent Lewis machine-gun. When tracer set the tailplane alight, the senior rating left his cockpit and clambered along the fuselage to beat the flames out before returning to his seat to continue the struggle against the foe.

For seven or eight minutes, all six Swordfish came under sustained attack – and yet all six were still airborne. Perhaps they might succeed. They pressed on and when the German warships came into sight, Esmonde turned towards them.

A couple of Me109s buzzed Reg Mitchell’s torpedo boat. They were barely 40ft above the water – low enough for the 18-year-old to clearly see the German pilots. They grinned at the crew of MTB48 – but didn’t open fire. “They obviously all thought we were pathetic and insignificant,” Mitchell recalled.

Through the loudspeakers of the Prinz Eugen a tinny voice: Aircraft, bearing 240 degrees, four low-flying aircraft, biplanes, torpedo bombers! The broadcast, Paul Schmalenbach recalled, “electrified” the cruiser’s crew.

On the bridge of the Scharnhorst, Otto Ciliax was unperturbed. “The English are now throwing their mothball navy at us,” he observed acidly

In aircraft ‘G’, observer Edgar Lee watched as the anti-aircraft – or flak – guns on the escorting forces opened fire. The guns did not belch with full fury, however, for fear of hitting their own fighters.

Even with subdued fury, the German fire was fearful. The lower left wing of Esmonde’s Swordfish was all but shot away, his gunner dead, the canvas on the fuselage torn away, yet the rugged bomber flew on. It closed to within 3,000 yards – a little over one and a half miles – of the heavy ships.

It got no further. It plunged into the Channel. Edgar Lee thought it was shot down by a fighter. Prinz Eugen’s flak gunners were convinced they had downed the Swordfish. Nor is there agreement over whether Esmonde launched his torpedo. If he did, it failed to find a target.

Swordfish ‘G’ and ‘L’, following Esmonde, faired little better. L flew so low that bullets ricocheted off the waves and peppered the fuselage. Part of the upper wing caught fire, two engine cylinders were shot away, so too the floor beneath gunner Don Bunce who was forced to brace himself against the fuselage to avoid falling into the Channel. As for L’s pilot, S/Lt Pat Kingsmill was shot in the back, his observer ‘Mac’ Samples was also wounded.

Once again the Swordfish demonstrated its legendary ability to take punishment. It flew on. Bunce brought down at least one German fighter while Kingsmill turned the bomber 360 degrees to evade the Luftwaffe before bringing his aircraft to bear on the Prinz Eugen.

There is no dispute about Kingsmill’s torpedo. It launched and passed just astern of the heavy cruiser which moved violently as it took evasive action.

As for the aircraft, it turned for home but would never get there. Another hit detonated the aircraft’s distress flares and possibly wrecked the dinghy. With no hope of returning to base, Kingsmill sought to ditch. He was just about to do so when he realised the motor boats swarming just a few hundred yards away were German, not British. He continued until the Bristol Pegasus engine finally gave up then set the Swordfish down in the sea. The three crew spent ten minutes in the water before a British MTB rescued them.

Swordfish ‘G’ had also got its torpedo away after an equally horrific run-in. Pilot Brian Rose was badly wounded in the back. He and observer Edgar Lee were badly affected by fumes from the punctured fuel tank. At around 2,000 yards from the main German force, Rose released his torpedo, probably at the Gneisenau, observed its run briefly, then turned. The aircraft passed over the outer screen of destroyers but got no further, crashing into the sea. Lee freed himself, then the badly-injured Rose, helping the pilot into the dinghy. He could do nothing for gunner Ambrose Johnson, slumped over his gun and trapped in his seat. The Channel swallowed the Swordfish whole, taking Johnson with it.

The fate of the remaining three torpedo bombers is even more bleak. Lee last saw the three aircraft pressing home their attack on the Prinz Eugen, jinking wildly to avoid the flak. All three were shot out of the sky. Not one man survived and only one body was ever recovered.

Thus ended the Fleet Air Arm’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’. It achieved nothing, save to add a bitter but brave chapter to the annals of naval aviation. Having brushed aside the ‘mothball navy’ just minutes before, the icy Otto Ciliax reflected on the attack. The “handful of ancient planes” had been “piloted by men whose bravery surpasses any other action by either side that day”.
Outstanding bravery , cant find any award to this man for his action.

Whilst trying to keep the Focke-Wulfs and Messerschmitts at bay, Spitfire pilot Michael Crombie’s eye was caught by Esmonde’s bomber fending off repeated waves of attacks, its gunner PO William ‘Clints’ Clinton responding to the 20mm cannon of the German fighters with his much-less-potent Lewis machine-gun. When tracer set the tailplane alight, the senior rating left his cockpit and clambered along the fuselage to beat the flames out before returning to his seat to continue the struggle against the foe.
 
@Yokel Thanks for the post. Yet another piece of WWII history I knew nothing about.
Just flying a Swordfish in bad weather takes balls of steel, attacking 3 battle cruisers with little fighter cover is extreme bravery.
One point was it just the 3 battle cruisers or did they have escorts as well?
 

joey88

Old-Salt
@Yokel Thanks for the post. Yet another piece of WWII history I knew nothing about.
Just flying a Swordfish in bad weather takes balls of steel, attacking 3 battle cruisers with little fighter cover is extreme bravery.
One point was it just the 3 battle cruisers or did they have escorts as well?
A large fighter umbrella and e-boats.
 
@Yokel Thanks for the post. Yet another piece of WWII history I knew nothing about.
Just flying a Swordfish in bad weather takes balls of steel, attacking 3 battle cruisers with little fighter cover is extreme bravery.
One point was it just the 3 battle cruisers or did they have escorts as well?

For the sake of accuracy, 2 battle cruisers (Scharnhorst and Gneisenau) and 1 heavy cruiser (Prinz Eugen) plus as already mentioned a heavy E-boat and air presence, as well as 6 destroyers.

the Channel Dash
A long line of German ships is led through the Channel by the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Prinz Eugen.

Not to detract from the incredible stoicism and bravery of the FAA, HMS Worcester, as part of a 6 destroyer flotilla, is also worthy of mention for pressing home an attack while significantly overmatched in combat power.

 
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Outstanding bravery , cant find any award to this man for his action.

Whilst trying to keep the Focke-Wulfs and Messerschmitts at bay, Spitfire pilot Michael Crombie’s eye was caught by Esmonde’s bomber fending off repeated waves of attacks, its gunner PO William ‘Clints’ Clinton responding to the 20mm cannon of the German fighters with his much-less-potent Lewis machine-gun. When tracer set the tailplane alight, the senior rating left his cockpit and clambered along the fuselage to beat the flames out before returning to his seat to continue the struggle against the foe.

Bureaucracy.

'All members of 825 Squadron were honoured after the Channel Dash. Lt Cdr Esmonde was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, gallantry awards were given to those who survived and a Mention in Despatches was given to those who died, the highest award possible as no gallantry award other than the Victoria Cross could be given posthumously.'

 
For the sake of accuracy, 2 battle cruisers (Scharnhorst and Gneisenau) and 1 heavy cruiser (Prinz Eugen) plus as already mentioned a heavy E-boat and air presence, as well as 6 destroyers.

the Channel Dash
A long line of German ships is led through the Channel by the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Prinz Eugen. The British were unable to prevent the enemy ships from reaching port.

Not to detract from the incredible stoicism and bravery of the FAA, HMS Worcester, as part of a 6 destroyer flotilla, is also worthy of mention for pressing home at attack while significantly overmatched in combat power.

Thanks for that. It just makes 825 Sqn's attack even more remarkable.
 
Thanks for that. It just makes 825 Sqn's attack even more remarkable.

The whole thing seems to have been something of a lash-up, but again, I wish to take nothing away from the incredible bravery of the crews of 825 Sqn FAA.

Back at Manston, Lt Cdr Esmonde readies his crews. They all knew the importance of fighter cover. He is told by 11 Fighter Group that the Biggin Hill Wing of 3 squadrons will provide top cover against the Luftwaffe, with the Hornchurch wing of 2 squadrons providing close cover. They were to rendezvous over Manston and he was asked to confirm the time, to which he replied “Tell them to be here by 12.25 hrs. Get the fighters to us on time – for the love of God”.

At the command at Dover Castle, Wing Cdr Constable-Roberts telephones Esmonde to stress the Swordfish should only go if he was convinced that he had sufficient fighter cover. He left the final decision down to Esmonde but he his mind was already made up and told the Wing Commander to let the Admiral know the squadron would go in. It was felt that even with heavy cover, few Swordfish crews would return from a daylight mission such as this.

12:32hrs: The Spitfires of No.72 squadron find the Swordfish. Both sets of aircraft circle for a further two minutes but no further aircraft arrive.

12:34hrs: Esmonde, knowing that it was a case of ‘now or never’, waves his hand and dives down to 50 feet above the sea to lead his squadron out to sea.

Sqn Ldr Kingscombe with the Spitfires is unaware of the real mission, due to the information blackout. His orders are to escort the Swordfish and intervene between German E-boats and British MTBs, which he thought was odd for such a small skirmish.

12:36hrs: The escorts from 124 Sqn and 401 Sqn from Biggin Hill both arrive late for the rendezvous. Squadron Leader Duke-Wooley with 124 squadron from knew they would be late, so crosses the coast at Deal, six miles south of Manston to try and catch the Swordfish up. With no sign of them, they carry on north-east and soon become involved with enemy fighters, changing the mission entirely.

The two squadrons from Hornchurch Wing, tasked with attacking the German ships to suppress the anti-aircraft fire arrive five minutes late, so they cross the coast and head out to look for the enemy. However they move too far to the west and are unable to find the ships. They are then attacked by Luftwaffe fighters and get caught up in aerial dogfights.


 

Yokel

LE
For the sake of accuracy, 2 battle cruisers (Scharnhorst and Gneisenau) and 1 heavy cruiser (Prinz Eugen) plus as already mentioned a heavy E-boat and air presence, as well as 6 destroyers.

the Channel Dash
A long line of German ships is led through the Channel by the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Prinz Eugen. The British were unable to prevent the enemy ships from reaching port.

Not to detract from the incredible stoicism and bravery of the FAA, HMS Worcester, as part of a 6 destroyer flotilla, is also worthy of mention for pressing home at attack while significantly overmatched in combat power.


The page on the Royal Navy website mentions all the aspects of operations that day, including attempted attacks by destroyers and Motor Torpedo Boats, and a possible submarine action.

Bureaucracy.

'All members of 825 Squadron were honoured after the Channel Dash. Lt Cdr Esmonde was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, gallantry awards were given to those who survived and a Mention in Despatches was given to those who died, the highest award possible as no gallantry award other than the Victoria Cross could be given posthumously.'


Policy rather than bureaucracy I am afraid. I think it was the station commander at Manston who recommended the Victoria Cross.

The whole thing seems to have been something of a lash-up, but again, I wish to take nothing away from the incredible bravery of the crews of 825 Sqn FAA.

Back at Manston, Lt Cdr Esmonde readies his crews. They all knew the importance of fighter cover. He is told by 11 Fighter Group that the Biggin Hill Wing of 3 squadrons will provide top cover against the Luftwaffe, with the Hornchurch wing of 2 squadrons providing close cover. They were to rendezvous over Manston and he was asked to confirm the time, to which he replied “Tell them to be here by 12.25 hrs. Get the fighters to us on time – for the love of God”.

At the command at Dover Castle, Wing Cdr Constable-Roberts telephones Esmonde to stress the Swordfish should only go if he was convinced that he had sufficient fighter cover. He left the final decision down to Esmonde but he his mind was already made up and told the Wing Commander to let the Admiral know the squadron would go in. It was felt that even with heavy cover, few Swordfish crews would return from a daylight mission such as this.

12:32hrs: The Spitfires of No.72 squadron find the Swordfish. Both sets of aircraft circle for a further two minutes but no further aircraft arrive.

12:34hrs: Esmonde, knowing that it was a case of ‘now or never’, waves his hand and dives down to 50 feet above the sea to lead his squadron out to sea.

Sqn Ldr Kingscombe with the Spitfires is unaware of the real mission, due to the information blackout. His orders are to escort the Swordfish and intervene between German E-boats and British MTBs, which he thought was odd for such a small skirmish.

12:36hrs: The escorts from 124 Sqn and 401 Sqn from Biggin Hill both arrive late for the rendezvous. Squadron Leader Duke-Wooley with 124 squadron from knew they would be late, so crosses the coast at Deal, six miles south of Manston to try and catch the Swordfish up. With no sign of them, they carry on north-east and soon become involved with enemy fighters, changing the mission entirely.

The two squadrons from Hornchurch Wing, tasked with attacking the German ships to suppress the anti-aircraft fire arrive five minutes late, so they cross the coast and head out to look for the enemy. However they move too far to the west and are unable to find the ships. They are then attacked by Luftwaffe fighters and get caught up in aerial dogfights.



There was a breakdown in communications - the fog of war.
 
If Joubert of Bomber Command (correction Coastal Command) hadn't done a cock up they might have sank them. As is the reaction was rushed due to missing them sortie because he never sent a replacement hudson
 
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