Many thanks to Brian Pears for allowing us to reproduce his account of this momentous day.
See http://www.ne-diary.bpears.org.uk/index.html for a fascinating North East War Diary.
Thursday, 15th August 1940 D348
Today was probably the most significant day in the Battle of Britain as far as the north-east is concerned. That is why different versions of the same air battles have been given, each one telling slightly more of the story as it unfolded, there are also differing versions, one version appears to show only 13 Groups battle, the others take in 12 Group as well, but its as accurate as its possible to get, 50 years after the event.
This was the day the Luftwaffe attempted to saturate the British Defences. One of the many areas of attack was Luftflotte 5's flank attack on the east Coast, they met heavy opposition and suffered serious casualties, most of whom fell into the North Sea. Luftflotte 5 never attempted a flank attack again. The man to whom the North-East is indebted for the successful defence of this area has not had very much in the way of recognition, he was the Air Officer Commanding, 13 Group, Air Vice-Marshal Richard Ernest Saul, DFC.
Despite enthusiastic claims made by the RAF (182 shot down), the true total of German losses was still a crushing blow to them. Over the whole country, Seventy-five lost and a further fifteen returning to base damaged. They also lost a further three planes and damaged another five in accidents.
The majority of people living in the North-East on this August day did not really know much about the events of the day, they just knew about the happenings in their own little part of the world, Miss Flagg's diary gives a true account of the day as the man or in this case, woman in the street saw it. The "Battle of Tyneside", in a way the prototype for the "Battle of Britain", did not affect the town (South Shields); indeed, many people had very little idea how momentous an occasion it was. The roar of planes and heavy gun-fire were heard; there were occasional glimpses of aircraft attacking or taking evasive action but bombs were only dropped in the harbour, on the cliffs and at sea. Four High Explosive bombs fell at Salmon's Hall and Frenchman's Bay. A Coast guard on duty had a narrow escape, one bomb falling on each side of his cabin which was seriously damaged. No casualties.
The following is an account of the North-East's part in that day, as described in the book Narrow Margin by Derek Wood and Derek Dempster .... "Then followed an attack which was to be the most interesting of the whole day. Banking on tactical surprise and conveniently forgetting the radar chain, Luftflotte 5 launched two simultaneous thrusts in the north and the north-east. They expected little opposition and their reception came as a painful surprise."
"At 8 minutes past 12 radar began to plot a formation of twenty plus opposite the Firth of Forth at a range of over 90 miles. As the raid drew closer the estimates went up to thirty in three sections flying SW towards Tynemouth."
"At Watnall the approach of 13 Groups first daylight raid was watched on the operations table with particular interest. With an hours warning the controller was able to put squadrons in an excellent position to attack, with 72 Squadron Spitfires in the path of the enemy off the Farne Islands and 605 Squadron over Tyneside. Nos 79 and 607 were also put up, but while the latter was in the path of the raid, No 79 was too far north."
"No 72 Squadron from Acklington was the first to make contact and it came as a distinct shock when the thirty materialised as I and III/KG 26 with sixty-five Heinkel 111s, and the entire I/ZG 76 from Stavanger with thirty-four Me 110s. After a brief pause in which to survey the two massive groups flying in vic formation, Squadron-Leader E. Graham led No 72 straight in from the flank, one section attacking the fighters, and the rest the bombers."
"The Me 110s formed defensive circles, while the Heinkels split up. Some of them jettisoned their bombs and headed back to Norway, leaving several of their number in the sea. The separate parts of the formation finally reached the coast, one south of Sunderland and the other south of Acklington. No 79 intercepted the northern group over the water, while a flight from No 605 Squadron caught it over land. Most of the HEs fell harmlessly in the sea."
"The group off Sunderland found Nos 607 and 41 waiting for it and they too bombed to little effect, apart from wrecking houses. The raiders turned back to Norway, the Me 110s having already departed some minutes before. Of a total force of about 100, eight bombers and seven fighters were destroyed and several more damaged without British loss. The airfield targets such as Usworth, Linton on Ouse and Dishforth went unscathed. One Staffel of III/KG 26 lost five of its nine aircraft in the course of the fighting."
"Farther south, an unescorted formation of 50 Ju 88s from I, II and III/KG 30, based on Aalborg, was heading in to No 12 Group off Flamborough Head. This group were detailed to wipe Driffield out as a bomber base. Full radar warning was given and 73 Squadron Hurricanes, 264 Squadron Defiants and 616 Squadron Spitfires were sent to patrol the area, the force being supplemented later by Blenheims from 219 Squadron in 13 Group."