Sunday, 15 September 1940

Battle of Britain Day

The crucial day of the Battle of Britain: until the 15th it is not clear whether the RAF will win; after the 15th it appears unlikely to lose.

Massive daylight raids are launched against London. All of 11 Group’s aircraft are committed to the Battle. Provisional figures of 175 German aircraft downed are given to The Times for publication the next day. On Tuesday the paper increase this figure to 185, against the loss of only 25 British fighters (with 12 pilots safe). Anti-aircraft guns claim seven of the total. (The real figures are about 60 German aircraft losses versus 29 British fighter losses plus 21 damaged.) The large daylight raids cease; the Luftwaffe increasingly turns to night bombing.

RAF North Weald

Whitley V, serial P5029, is taken on charge by No. 419 Flight.

RAF Tangmere

The first attempt to parachute Philip Schneidau into France appears to have been carried out on the night of the 15-16 September. Though some logbook entries differ*, correspondence makes this date the most likely. One night later than originally scheduled (for the 14-15th), the delay is probably due to the late delivery of the Flight’s first Whitley. Whitley P5029 is flown from North Weald to Tangmere, where it is fuelled up for the operation. The agent joins at Tangmere, having been driven down by car.

F/Lt J.A. ‘Tony’ O’Neill, DFC is the Whitley’s skipper, with F/Lt Walter Farley as 2nd Pilot. S/Ldr Shore, AFC, acts as Schneidau’s despatcher and parachuting coach, at the agent’s insistence. Sergeants Davies and Bernard, until recently instructing trainee Wireless Operators at No. 10 OTU, Abingdon, are the Wireless Operator and Rear Gunner, though who was which is not known. The navigator is an unidentified sergeant. Takeoff is scheduled for 2100, but they don’t take off from Tangmere until 0015hrs (i.e. the 16th). S/Ldr Shore’s timings show a flight of 8 hours, while Farley’s shows 6 hours 5 minutes; Shore may have recorded the total flight-time from North Weald. The aircraft experiences high cross-winds over the Channel, and they fail to find the target area, the forest of Fontainebleau. The aircraft returns to Tangmere at 0700hrs.

*Logbook dates differ: F/Lt O’ Neill dated the operation to the 16th, but Farley and Ross Shore recorded it as the 15th. Though a night operation would conventionally be dated as though it were part of the previous day, some aircrew might record a sortie that either takes off after midnight or takes place predominantly during the early hours, as if it is the next day. The convention avoids the problem of a late sortie followed by an early one the next night, otherwise it would appear that two sorties have been flown on the same night. In this case an official report written on the morning of the 16th rules the 16-17th out. Though it is possible that the sortie was flown on the 14-15th as originally planned, the balance of evidence points strongly to the 15-16th. The next attempt will not be made for several nights due to poor weather.