Royal Air Force’s strategy during the Battle of Britain

The Royal Air Force’s strategy during the Battle of Britain can be summarized in one word: Survive. Because as long as the RAF existed as an effective fighting force, the German’s could not achieve air superiority and launch their seaborne invasion of Britain.

The British used a complex system of command, control, communication and intelligence (C3I) during the battle. This was known as the Dowding System, called after its main developer, Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding, Commander of RAF Fighter Command during the Battle.

The Dowding System divided Britain into four Group Areas; 10 Group in Wales and the West, 11 Group covering the Southeast and around London, 12 Group defending the Midlands and East Anglia and 13 Group covering the North, including Scotland. Each Group was further subdivided into Sectors. Each Sector was assigned between 2 and 4 squadrons. The sectors had a main headquarters airfield and some satellite fields on which the aircraft would be based.

The system would work like this:

A Luftwaffe raid would be detected by either Radar or the Observer Corps. This information would be called by dedicate telephone lines into The Filter Room of Fighter Command HQ at Bentley Priory. The information would be quickly but thoroughly analyzed and evaluated. The numbers and types of planes in the raid, possible directions and targets would be determined.

The information was then passed to the main operations room to be recorded on the plotting tables. The information was also forwarded to the affected Group HQ where it was also recorded on their plotting tables and where RAF officers called Fighter Controller would order a response. Sector HQs would then scramble fighter squadrons into the air for the intercept. Once in the air, fighters would be directed, or vectored, by High Frequency (HF) radio at the oncoming German planes.

Despite some limitation, such as the short range of HF radio and the fact that the RAF tracking system for its fighters, called HF/DF or ” Huff-Duff”, was limited to no more than four fighters squadrons in a sector, the Dowding system was amazingly effective. The RAF achieved an 80% interception rate on German formations. This means eight out of ten time RAF fighters showed up in place and in time to engage enemy formations.

Not that the system was flawless. Cooperation between groups was often lacking or faulty. This was particularly true with 11 Group and 12 Group where the two group commanders were often at odds. However, this Air Combat Control system combined with advance technology such as Radar and “Huff/Duff” along with short comings in and some strategic errors by the Luftwaffe lead to the RAF decisively defeating the Luftwaffe in the Battle.

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