12 December 1940 – 11 Group had been considering the idea of sweeps over German-held territory for some time. It was a tactic that had already been executed with great success by the Luftwaffe for some months. An initial plan from late October 1940 was cancelled and replaced with a new plan on 8 December.(1) Its aim was quite simple: “To carry out whenever weather and other conditions are suitable, offensive sweeps by three Squadrons in company from a Sector”.(2)
The plan was for the Group Controller to issue the order to a Sector and outline the lateral limits of the area to be swept. Over all control of the sweep would be held by the Sector Commander and all three squadrons were to keep within visual range of each other. The three squadrons involved should rendezvous over base but not cross the Maidstone Patrol Line until reaching their operational heights.
These altitudes were set at 30,000-35,000 feet for the first, top squadron, 25,000-30,000 feet for the second, middle squadron, and 20,000-25,000 feet for the third, bottom squadron. None were permitted to descend below a base of 15,000 feet once the English coast was crossed on the outbound leg.
The three formations were then to proceed towards the coast of France in strict radio silence, with the exception of Pip-Squeaks, but were forbidden to proceed inland. Such operations were only to be conducted down-sun, between the hours of 13:30 and 16:30. The squadrons should then sweep once across their allocated area and return across the Channel, without re-traversing the area already swept.
On returning to England, however, they were to conduct a public relations exercise by flying directly up the Thames “to enable shipping in the Estuary to see our Fighters in strength”.(3) The order was to be executed, whenever suitable, from 11 December 1940 onwards. Thus, only a day later, the Hornchurch Wing was called upon to conduct “the first offensive sweep of three Squadrons… over the Channel”.(4)
The Station’s squadrons starting taking off at 15:10, with 41 Squadron’s twelve pilots airborne last, at 15:20. Having rendezvoused and formed up by 15:30, they crossed out in textbook formation, but 41 Squadron was soon called off to investigate what proved to be a false plot. They tried to re-join the sweep, but were unable to locate 64 and 603 Squadrons. As the operation could now therefore not be fulfilled as planned, the entire sweep was cancelled at 16:05.
No enemy aircraft were seen, and the Squadrons returned to base independently of one another, with otherwise nothing to report. 41 Squadron put down at 16:30, and this concluded the day’s flying. It had not quite been the success that had perhaps been hoped, and the first such operations did not commence in earnest until early 1941.
1. 11G/S.500/13/Ops, 1, 11 Group – Sector Offensive Sweeps, dated 21 October 1940 was cancelled and replaced with 11G/S.500/13/Ops, b, 11 Group – Sector Offensive Sweeps, dated 8 December 1940, and issued to all Group Stations and Controllers. See also 11 Group ORB Appendix, TNA AIR 25/198.
2. 11G/S.500/13/Ops, b, 11 Group – Sector Offensive Sweeps, 8 December 1940, 11 Group ORB Appendix, TNA AIR 25/198.
4. RAF Hornchurch ORB, 12 December 1940, TNA AIR 28/384.
(Image: Crown Copyright Expired)
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