22 August 2010

Thursday 15th August 1940 - Battle of Britain

Croydon Aerodrome
A pilot's loose-leaf chart (click chart to enlarge) from pre-war 3rd edition of  'The Air Pilot', the official publication from the Air Ministry. Croydon was Britain's most important international aerodrome, while Heathrow was still a small grass airfield.  Latitude 51 deg 21' N. Longitude  00 deg 07' W (so close to the Greenwich meridian). Wallington is to the north-west, central Croydon to the north-east  (see below).
Fred's diary: Rather warm, pleasant sunny day. Out to buy 3/16 ball bearings and some french chalk. Re-fitted lower head race of bicycle with new balls.Treated back cover with the chalk to stop creaking - cycled to buy some fish and order Carter Paterson. Met Miss Jarvis. Uncle Ben came after tea. While he was here heard aero-engines and saw in the distance an air battle over Croydon Aerodrome and heard some bombs. Alan Spooner saw three machines come down. The sirens were sounded but the all clear came quite soon. Met Edie Bennet in evening, she said her mother is dying of dropsy.
On this day: Adlertag (Eagle Day) saw the German Luftwaffe fly 1,786 sorties, especially against RAF bases, preparing for the planned invasion of Britain. The Germans lost 75 aircraft, the RAF, 32. The British had cracked the Enigma code, in which German operational plans were transmitted, which proved of vital assistance to Britain and the pilots, famously named by Churchill, in the House of Commons on 20th August, as 'The Few'.

Also on this day: Helle, a Greek cruiser, was torpedoed and sunk by an Italian submarine.
Croydon Aerodrome location  from 1930s 'The Air Pilot'. (Click to enlarge.)

Blog reader Fred Brewer was a teenager living in the same area and has sent these notes... Uncle Fred mentions the attack on Croydon, on 15th August 1940. I remember this well, and stood in the doorway of Meredith's shop (505 Kingston Road, newsagent and general stores). The ensuing air battle was quite visible from that distance, because it took place very high up, and could be followed by the vapour trails, which criss-crossed the sky. According to The Luftwaffe War Diaries, compiled by Cajus Bekker, first printed in German in 1964, and in English in 1966, Group 210, under Captain Walter Rubensdorffer were headed for Kenley and Biggin Hill airfields. The group split into two, with a number of Dornier 17s  bound for Biggin Hill, and 15 Me110s and 9 Me109s  headed for Kenley, the important Group 11 field. The Captain decided to perplex the defence, by taking a wide loop to the north, and then attacking Kenley from the south. Unexpectedly, they found themselves over the southern counties, and moved in for the attack. Captain Rubensdorffer had made a serious navigational error. The Dorniers attacked West Malling, and the Messerschmitts were over Croydon. The RAF gave their loses as 34, and the Germans admittted to 55, and dubbed it Black Thursday. Captain Rubensdorffer also failed to return.

Also see BBC material on Battle of Britain at:


  1. Re: Croydon Aerodrome chart - Fascinating! Please excuse my ignorance but can anyone explain how the Chalk line, Neon ground lights, the west pointer line (and the boundary floodlights - without blinding pilots) assisted in the aircraft operations.
    Regards, AeroMan.

  2. Hi Anonymous - I replied but it seems to have disappeared! Several pages of text accompany the chart - if you are very interested and supply a e-mail (direct to me - I'll give you mine) I could scan the pages and send... wings.aloft which is at will reach me. Meanwhile, neons were below surface level in a line to W of landing circle - and switched on when landing unless pilot requested otherwise. West pointer line 2ft wide assisted line up and direction out in bad vis! Main chalk line to help a/c using Lorenz approach system - and setting course before t/off in bad vis.-Tony