Manston attacked on ‘The Hardest Day’, 18th August 1940

Described by many as “The Hardest Day”, Manston escaped most of what the Luftwaffe would today throw at the RAF. The air battles that day were amongst the largest aerial engagements in history at that time and both sides suffered very heavy losses.

The Luftwaffe had been ordered to destroy Fighter Command before the planned invasion of Britain could take place. Manston was hit by the first wave of this assault on 12th August 1940

On 17th August, German intelligence suggested that the RAF was down to just 300 serviceable fighters, formed from reports of German pilots’ claims and estimates of British production capabilities.  In reality there were 855 aircraft serviceable, 289 at storage units and 84 at training units.  The Luftwaffe expected a weakened opposition when in fact fighter numbers were twice as many in number as at the beginning of July 1940.

The largest attacks were against the main fighter sector bases from which operations were controlled, but German intelligence only identified them as the largest ones known to be operating fighters. The targets were the airfields at Kenley, Biggin Hill, Gosport, Ford, Thorney Island, Hornchurch and North Weald and the radar station at Poling.

Fighters from Manston were involved in defending against the attackers’ 850 sorties, involving 2200 Luftwaffe aircrew.

Hauptmann Wolfgang Ewald, a German Luftwaffe ace led, what is reported to be between six and twelve aircraft of his 2./JG 52 (52nd Fighter Wing, armed with Messerschmitt Bf 109s) in a strafing attack on Manston.  Ewald’s attention had been caught by a group of Spitfires bunched together on the ground preparing to refuel between sorties, where craters caused by previous attacks on the airfield forced the aircraft to be closer than normal.

After two passes, the attackers claimed the destruction of at least ten fighters with three Blenheim’s thrown in for good measure.  In fact, just two of 266 Squadron’s Spitfires were totally written off, with another six being severely damaged, but repairable. A single Hurricane belonging to Sgt Griffiths of 17 Squadron, that had force landed in the morning was also destroyed. Groundcrew that were caught in the open were cut to pieces, with one killed and 15 injured.

The RAF and Fleet Air Arm lost altogether 68 aircraft with 31 in air combat. 69 German aircraft were destroyed or damaged beyond repair. Both side suffered more losses on this date that on any other day during the Battle of Britain, but although the outcome of the battle didn’t strategically favour either side, neither side would have been able to sustain such continued losses.

German personnel losses stood at 94 killed, 40 captured and 25 returned with wounds. For the RAF, 10 fighter pilots were killed on the day, another died of wounds. 19 pilots were wounded, 11 serious enough that they did not take part in the rest of the battle.

By Alan Wilson from Stilton, Peterborough, Cambs, UK (Messerschmitt Bf109E-4/B ‘4101 / Black 12’ (DG200)) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
This aircraft is a Messerschmitt Bf109E-4/B, currently on display at the RAF Museum Hendon.  Built in September 1940, this aircraft was attacked on 27th November 1940, and made a “wheels up” landing at Manston. It was piloted by Leutnant Wolfgang Teumer of 2/JG51 and attacked by the Spitfire of 66 Squadron’s Flt Lt George P Christie DFC over the Thames Estuary, damaging his radiator and radio.
Jagdgeschwader 52: The Experten, By John Weal, Osprey Publishing
RAF Museum –