June to December
"The gratidude of every home in our Island, in our
Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes
ofthe guilty, goes out to the British airmen, who, undaunted
by the odd, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal
danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowes
and their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was
so much owed by so many to so few"
After Dunkirk there was again a brief period of comparative
peace as both sides took stock and prepared for the next awful
confrontation. This was the Battle of Britain during which
the German Luftwaffe sought to destroy the RAF so as to frighten
Britain into submission, or if Britain could not be cowed
to allow the German army to attack England. The Battle of
Britain was perhaps the longest and most intensive air battle
in history and was also to be Germany's first major reverse
of World War II.
Amongst the Squadrons and pilots that flew from RAF Hornchurch
in this period were some of the most famous and highest scoring
of the war and included the Spitfire equipped 41, 54, 65,
74, 222, 266, 603 and 611 Squadrons, the Defiant equipped
264 Squadron and the Blenheim equipped 600 Squadron.
The Battle of Britain began on or about the 8th July 1940
with Luftwaffe attacks on British channel convoys. During
this phase German pilots mostly held the upper hand and finally
and drove British shipping from the channel in daylight hours.
The Spitfire squadrons at Hornchurch were heavily engaged
during these channel battles with a 74 Squadron spitfire claiming
the first German fighter to be shot down on British soil on
During this period the 11 group commander, Air Vice Marshall
Park made concerted efforts to rest his battle wearied pilots
by rotating squadrons between the embattled forward airfields
such as Hornchurch and quieter sectors elsewhere in Britain
especially as was too often the case if they suffered heavy
casualties. This would be continued throughout the desperate
fighting that followed.
The main phase of the Battle of Britain began on August 13th
1940, named Adlertag (Eagle Day) by the Germans. This was
the beginning of a prolonged and intensive assault on the
British air defences that was initially concentrated on the
coastal airfields and radar stations.
Soon, however, the Luftwaffe's activities spread further
inland and on 18th August, during the most intensive air battles
of the entire battle, RAF Hornchurch was bombed for the first
time. This was only the first of at least ten bombing raids
on RAF Hornchurch with the heaviest attacks occurring on August
24th and August 31st.
During these bombing raids the flight ways were cratered,
a new officers mess was destroyed and parts of the dispersal
areas damaged and vital phone lines cut. Residential housing
in Elm Park was also hit and on at least two occasions planes
were caught taking off and destroyed during raids. Even as
bombs dropped around them, Hornchurch's stalwart ground crews
continued to work to service, refuel and rearm aircraft and
between raids all spare hands and a faithful steam traction
engine were put to work levelling the cratered flight lines.
The Sector Operations room was also moved to the safety of
a temporary facility in Rainham before a more permanent home
was found in the Masonic Hall in Romford.
By the beginning of September the strain on Fighter Command
was beginning to tell and defeat seemed possible. All of the
Squadrons that were rotated through RAF Hornchurch took casualties
during this period but worst affected was the Boulton Paul
Defiant equipped 264 Squadron who were withdrawn from the
day battles after only a week due to their casualties.
On 7th September 1940, however the Luftwaffe changed its
tactics and began to concentrate on bombing London giving
the battle weary fighter stations, such as Hornchurch a break
from intensive air attacks. This gave Park's embattled 11
Group a chance to regroup. It also brought the Luftwaffe bombers
within reach of Leigh Mallory's so far mainly un-engaged 12
Group. The losses inflicted on the German bomber formations
in their day light attacks on London that culminated on September
15th (now remembered as Battle of Britain Day) persuaded the
Luftwaffe that the RAF was in fact far from beaten and that
an invasion of England would not be possible in 1940.
Instead of massed bombing raids by day, the Luftwaffe now
began its campaign of night blitzes against London and other
British cities. However, Hornchurch remained in the forefront
of battle as the Luftwaffe launched massive daylight fighter
and fighter bomber sweeps and also sent small groups of night
intruders to bomb air fields, including Hornchurch. Hornchurch's
night fighting 600 Squadron was also involved in pioneering
the dark art of intercepting enemy bombers by night.
British sources regard 31st October 1940 as the end of the
Battle of Briatin although intensive night bombing, night
intruder raids and day light Fighter bomber sweeps continued
into the spring of 1941 when much the Luftwaffe was forced
to move its resources eastwards in anticipation of the German
attack on Soviet Russia.
During the Battle of Britain Hornchurch pilots accounted
for 205 German bombers and fighters destroyed and probably
many more severely damaged. The top scoring Squadrons were
603 Squadron with 58 enemy destroyed. and 41 Squadron with
45 enemy destroyed.
In return, however, 144 Hornchurch Planes were destroyed
and 68 Hornchurch pilots died. Many of these dead are buried
in the cemetery of St Andrews Church, Hornchurch.