The Battle of Britain 1940
Groups and Sectors of the RAF
Fighter Command of the Royal Air Force was divided into a number of groups and Great Britain was covered by four operational groups in total. 10 Group covered the south-west, 11 Group covered the south-east, 12 Group covered the Midlands while 13 Group covered the North of England and Scotland. Two other groups, No 9 covering North and Central Wales, and No 14, covering the north of Scotland from the Tay River were formed too late to become operational for the Battle of Britain. Each of these Groups had a high ranking officer that was in charge of these Groups. The groups were further broken down by having a number of airfields within them which were called Sector Stations, and each of these had a Commanding Officer that was responsible for the station. To break it down even further, each sector station (or airfield) was allocated a number of squadrons, usually three or four, and each squadron had a leader who was in charge and responsible for his squadron. So putting it simply, it was like having a number of small groups within one large group. The map below outlines these Groups in more detail.
11 GROUP This Group was perhaps one of the busiest of all the groups as it had the task of not only being the closest to the enemy coast and seeing plenty of action, but had the unenviable job of protecting the capital city of London. The Group HQ was at Uxbridge, and Bentley Priory which was not too far away was the headquarters of Air Chief Marshall Hugh Dowding the Commander-in-Chief of Fighter Command . Hornchurch, North Weald, Biggin Hill and Kenley were amongst the busiest of airfields during raids on London with pilots on many occasions coming in to refuel and rearm and then taking off straight away to join in on another dogfight. Air Vice-Marshall Keith Park was in charge of 11 Group.
10 GROUP. Most of the approaching enemy aircraft from over the English Channel were coming from Brest (KG40) and the Stuka squadrons from St Malo (St G2)and Caen (St G77), and the south-western end of the Channel had to be protected. This was the task of some of 10 Group. The airfields of Middle Wallop and St Eval were well positioned for this. The enemy coast was out of range of the aircraft of Filton but they were capable of intercepting enemy bomber formations that approached the coast west of Southhamton which itself was a prime target for the Luftwaffe. Headquarters was at Box just south of Bristol and Air Vice Marshal Sir Christopher Quintin Brand was in charge of 10 Group.
12 GROUP. Although a considerable distance away from the enemy coast, 12 Group was kept exceptionally busy. Covering all of the midlands it included the industrial cities of Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton, Manchester and Liverpool which were important prime targets for the German bombers. Often requested to assist Keith Park of 11 Group, chief of 12 Group Air Vice-Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory often refused and the two were not regarded as comrades-in -arms. The Group headquarters was at Watnall near Sheffield.
13 GROUP. This was the largest in all of the Groups as far as area was concerned. From a line due east from just above Manchester up as far as the north of Scotland, and including Northern Ireland it was a group well away from the main action that was taking place in southern England. But many attacking aircraft mainly in the form of bombers came in from Norway and the North Sea. Because of the amount of coastline this Group had to cover, it was called on many times to do observation flights of the sea lanes. The Group headquarters was at Newcastle and Air Vice-Marshal Richard Saul was in charge of 13 Group.
Two other Groups were also incorporated into Fighter Command, although they were operational, they did not receive the glory or the accolades of the other Groups.
9 GROUP. This was formed to take some of the weight off of the shoulders so to speak of 10 Group and 12 Group and covered an area from the central area of Wales to the northernmost coastline of North Wales and also incorporated the Isle of Angelsey. Air Marshal Hugh Dowding proposed a new group be inaugurated in Wales during the early stages of the Battle of Britain as waves of enemy bombers managed to get through 10 Group in the south-west. On most occasions, 10 Group was able to handle the situation, but there were numerous occasions when 10 Group was busy defending the many south coast ports it allowed the German formations to come in from the south-west and west and attack the industrial centers of South Wales.
Then Leigh-Mallory intervened and requested that the formation of the new Group be but into operation as soon as possible because as he stated, that if his squadrons were kept busy intercepting the waves of German bombers heading for Wales from the North Sea and the Midlands across his group area, then it was impossible to comply with the request for assistance that was often asked by Keith Park and also Fighter Command.
Headquarters for 9 Group was to be at Barton Hall, about three miles to the north of Preston, which actually was just across the border in Lancashire in England. This was established in July 1940 and was the most suitable location regards to accessibility and communications.
Four sector stations (airfields) were allocated to 9 Group. These were Ternhill, Speke, Jurby on the Isle of Man and Baginton. All these sector stations would be under the command of Australian, Air Vice Marshal W.A.McClaughry.
The date given as the official date that 9 Group was an operational group was 2nd October 1940. The next day, the group made its first official combat operation when Ju88s and He111s were detected first by Newcastle radar, then by Merseyside and 312 Squadron (Hurricanes-Speke) were scrambled to make an interception in the Conwy/Ryll area of the North Wales coast. Most of the German formation broke away and headed for their targets at Birmingham and Wolverhampton, but only a small number set course for the North Wales coast. There was no casualties on either side.
The sector station at Speke was bombed the following week (7-10-40) and only minimal damage occurred. The first success of the group was when 312 squadron intercepted a lone Ju88 in South Wales, but on 10th October, Sgt O.Hanzlicek, a Czech pilot on training duties, baled out of Hurricane L1547 after the engine caught fire while over Ellesmere on the River Mersey, and he never survived the fall.
9 Group never took any major part in Battle of Britain operations. Its task in these early months was to protect the Welsh industrial ports, but it must be emphasized that just their presence must have been a deterrent to the enemy.
14 GROUP. This Group was formed and became operational when it was thought that towns in the north of England and Scotland were under threat of attack, and by forming another Group from the north of the Tay River in Perthshire to the northern tip of Scotland. Although formed during the Battle of Britain, its main operational activity was to come in the period afterwards. Air Vice Marshall M.Henderson CIE, DSO was given command of 14 Group on the 1st August 1940 RAF Stations to be included in this group were Castletown, Dyce, Wick which was given sector operational control, Skeabrea, and Kirkwall. On the 16th October Sector operational control was transferred from Wick to Kirkwall.
The first recorded victory for 14 Group was not until 13th November in the Dyce Sector. A Heinkel 111 was spotted by the Observer corps just off the coast at Peterhead near Aberdeen and 111 Squadron (Hurricanes- Dyce/Montrose) which had just been transferred from Drem was scrambled, and the three Hurricanes intercepted, attacked and shot down the enemy bomber some 40-45 miles out into the North Sea. The three pilots involved were thought to be Sgt J.V.Kucera a Czech pilot who was later to be transferred to 238 Squadron, Sgt M.J.Mansfeld also a Czech pilot, and P/O P.J.Simpson who was later to be transferred to 64 Squadron.
Most of the observations of enemy activity was entrusted into the hands of the Observer Corps, as because of its geographical location, the far north of Scotland was constantly hampered by gale force winds and this in turn made radar plotting sometimes almost impossible. On a number of occasions enemy aircraft managed to cross the coast and were not detected. But it only because the Observer Corps were adequately doing their job, that these aircraft could be detected and finally intercepted.
Many squadrons that had seen heavy fighting in 11 Group, and were almost at the point of sheer exhaustion, were sent to stations in 14 Group for a rest where they would only become involved in spasmodic combat occurrences.