FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Remembering the hardest day

Posted in Biggin Hill, England by folkestonejack on August 18, 2015

The hardest fought day of the Battle of Britain took place exactly seventy-five years ago, with the Luftwaffe flying 850 sorties in an attempt to knock out the fighter airfields of Southern England. The RAF matched this effort with 927 sorties. All the more astonishingly this act of resistance was performed by just 600 RAF aircrew, compared to 2200 aircrew from the Luftwaffe.

Three Spitfires prepare to join their patrol

Three Spitfires prepare to join their patrol

Today’s tribute saw a remarkable gathering of eighteen Spitfires and six Hurricanes scramble from Biggin Hill as a siren sounded across the airfield. The location was highly appropriate as seventy-five years ago this was one of the Luftwaffe’s targets, along with the airfields at Ford, Gosport, Hornchurch, Kenley, North Weald and Thorney Island.

After reaching the air the planes split into three formations, heading out to patrol the skies above Dover, the Solent and the former 11 Group stations which had taken the heaviest battering during the battle. On their return one flight kept up a patrol around Biggin Hill whilst the remaining patrols landed, echoing the defensive tactics used during that tumultuous summer.

Spitfire LF Mk.XVIe TE184 (wearing the colours of Flt Lt Otto Smik, 'B' Flight Commander, 312 Czech Squadron)

Spitfire LF Mk.XVIe TE184, wearing the colours of the mount flown by Flt Lt Otto Smik of 312 (Czech) Squadron

The attack on Biggin Hill on 18th August 1940 was carried out by nine low flying Dorniers, followed up by high level bombing raids by Heinkel and Ju88 bombers. In just ten minutes, five hundred bombs were dropped on the airfield and the surrounding neighbourhoods. However, the dogged defence from 32 and 610 Squadrons prevented the bombers from delivering these with any accuracy. The nearby RAF station at Kenley was not so lucky, suffering considerable damage.

One remarkable tale of heroism from amidst the aftermath of the attack at Biggin Hill was that of Sergeant Joan Mortimer, who was awarded the military medal for her bravery in marking out the unexploded bombs on the airfield to warn the returning aircrews. One of the bombs exploded, knocking Elizabeth to the ground, but after dusting herself down she carried on. The citation praised her ‘exceptional courage and coolness which had a great moral effect on all those with whom she came in contact’.

The sight and sound of twenty four fighters in the air today was quite breathtaking and a superb way to remember the brave young men and women who served their country with such dedication during those dark days, often at the cost of their own lives.

The fighters on the ground at Biggin Hill after the commemorations

The fighters on the ground at Biggin Hill after the commemorations

After a fire destroyed the wartime chapel at Biggin Hill in 1946 Winston Churchill led the fundraising for a permanent memorial chapel at Biggin Hill, believing that ‘as a nation we have short memories and it is well that memorials such as this should bring to our remembrance the cost of victory in the days when one of our fighter pilots had to be worth ten.’

The campaign resulted in the construction of St George’s RAF Chapel at the station in 1951. The panels inside the chapel commemorate all those airmen killed or missing in action while operating from Biggin Hill during the war. The future of the chapel had been in some doubt, until funding for renovation was announced by the Chancellor in the budget earlier this year. Plans have now been drawn up to construct a memorial museum alongside the chapel.

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