Dowding has a conference to discuss how to manage Fighter Command's pilot losses

MOST SECRET.

DRAFT Minutes of a Conference held at Headquarters,
Fighter Command, on Saturday 7th September 1940.

Present:-
A.O.C.-in-C.
A.V.M. Evill.
A.V.M. Nicholl.
A.V.M. Park.
A.V.M. Douglas.
G/Cpt. Whitham.

1. The C-in-C. opened the meeting by stating that he had convened the conference in order to outline the situation as regards the fighter defence, and to decide the steps to be taken to 'go down hill', (if it be necessary to do so), in the most economical fashion, and in such a manner as to leave the pathway back uphill again as easy as possible when the present situation improves. He stated that he was assuming that the situation will arise in which our efforts to keep fully equipped and trained squadrons in the battle become ineffective.

2. The C-in-C. stated that his policy had been to concentrate a large number of squadrons in the South East of England, which were, broadly speaking, 'in the battle' The Stations on the fringe of the battle area, - such as Duxford and Middle Wallop, brought into the fighting on most days at the request of A.O.C. 11 Group to help him largely in patrolling over aerodromes mile his machines are away were in the air, and, to allow aircraft to refuel and rearm in comparative safety. As any one squadron became tired, it was taken out of the line, and a fresh squadron sent as replacement from 12 or 13 Group, or from the South West from 10 group.

3. the C-in-C. pointed out that he could still implement that policy, - we had not yet cane to the end of our resources in that respect; but, he emphasised, if the enemy persists in his present scale of attack, and if the fighter losses continue at the same rate as at present, the policy of replacement will not be operable for very much longer, and he wanted to have a clear plan of what he was going to do in that eventuality, and not be driven to some panic or emergency measures when the for very much longer, and he wanted to have a clear plan of what he was going to do in that eventuality, and not be driven to some panic or emergency measures when the situation had arrived.

4. The C-in-C. stated that the responsibility for any measures taken was his, under the Air Ministry, and that he had not called the conference in order to share the burden, but to explain his planproposals, and to give the members a chance to say whether they thought there was any better plan; he was prepared to modify his proposals if necessary.

5. The C-in-C. outlined the various possibilities which exist. One course which could be taken to keep abreast of wastage by replacement, and as long as it was possible to replace tired squadrons with fresh squadrons, that was the ideal solution, and he would continue to follow that course as long as possible. Pilots strength would have to be made up with 'non-operational' pilots who would have to be made 'operational' as soon as possible.

6. He pointed out that the situation had now arisen in which the casualties which some fresh squadrons had incurred happened in the first 2 or 3 days of their entry to the line; and perhaps a squadron which had entered the line with 20 operational pilots 3 days ago now had only 12, were reduced to 12 pilots after only 3 days fighting and if ? squadrons had to be moved back again after only 3 days the result was hopeless congestion. A solution had to be found to keep those squadrons in the line for a reasonable period, according to the intensity of the fighting; he stated that a fortnight must be regarded as the minimum period. As things were, in order to keep them on fighting in the line they had to go on fighting until they were down to about 8 pilots each; probably amalgamate two squadrons, or else take pilots from ??? other squadrons of pilots which were not in the line? then one had to take the operational pilots from another squadron in the line, and amalgamate the two squadrons, or else rob other squadrons which are were not in the line of their operational pilots and send them down to make up the deficiencies. The first alternative is quite unacceptable because it is very wasteful in personnel, i.e. there would be twice as many airmen, two Adjutants, etc, in the squadron. The second alternative meant that you took from a squadron preparing to come into the battle the pilots which had been they had trained and gave them to other squadrons; this was very disheartening to the remaining pilots of that squadron, and still more so to the Commanding Officer who had been working the squadron up to a state of efficiency.

7. The C-in-C. stated that he proposedwas now proposing to take two squadrons which had not been successful in the fighting, (266 and 616), (only when the necessity arose to find relieving squadrons), to relieve), and to strip them of their operational pilots and send them down to reinforce the squadrons which require reinforcements, and to replace these pilots with ex-pupils from Flying Training Schools or from O.T.U's, etc. In that way, the C-in-C. pointed out, the framework of the squadrons would be retained and they would not be entirely useless - in fact he would be able to get useful work from them such as local defence, sorties to a convoy, etc; and also he was, in practice, adding to his training facilities, and to all intents and purposes was increasing the size of his O.T.U's.

8. The C-in-C. stated that he was having some graphs prepared, which were i????pl about wastage of personnel, etc, which indicate that, provided the Air Ministry continue the very great efforts they have been making, enough men would be provided to meet wastage greater than any incurred so far. But the 'bottle neck' was the turning of pilots from F.T.S.'s and O.T.U's into operational pilots, and the action he was taking, (para. 7), would automatically help to remove that difficulty by practically increasing the size of the O.T.U's.

9. The scheme had two other advantages. The first was that, if a shortage should arise in aircraft, these non-operational, or semi-operational, squadrons could be given Brewster, or Curtiss aircraft, and their Hurricanes and Spitfires could be used by the fighting squadrons. In addition to that, the scheme was infinitely flexible. The C-in-C,. pointed out that he was starting with two squadrons which had not been successful in fighting, but after, say, a week or so, it might be that a really good squadron might come out of the line badly battered, without the possibility of reconstituting ot without a long rest, and it could be accepted that that squadron had to become non-operational until there was time to refit it.

10. The C-in-C. stressed the fact that it was absolutely essential that the enemy should not become aware that he had materially damaged us, at all; it was imperative that an undiminished front should exist in the South East, because the enemy was undoubtedly feeling the strain very much at the same time, and nothing should be afforded them in the nature of encouragement to think that we were anything but still up to strength, We must not give the enemy any sign of weakness or reduction of resistance. To this end, it was then part of the C-in-C's policy to keep No. 11 Group squadrons up to their present numbers. He did not intend to increase the number of squadrons in No. 11 Group; he said, however, that,if by doing this we could obtain a big victory, he would throw into the battle all his resources. But he could not do this. His policy was to go down hill as slowly and as economically as possible, and to make the way to the subsequent climb uphill again as simple and rapid as possible when the means to do so were available.

11. The C-in-C. then invited the comments of the members of the conference.

12. A.V.M. Douglas queried whether the C.-in-C. was not being a little bit too pessimistic, in that he had spoken of "going down hill".

13. The C.-in-C. strongly disagreed that he was being pessimistic; as an example he pointed out that even at the moment A.O.C. 11 Group was calling on him for reinforcements for about 5 squadrons which had only come lately into the line.

14. A.V.M. Douglas said that, as he understood it, what there was going tb be a shortage of was experienced pilots. He submitted that there should be no question of a shortage of pilots.

15. The C.-in-C. described the requirements for a trained fighter pilot, i.e, trained operational by day, and operational by night, etc.

16. A.V.M. Douglas said that Air Ministry was actually making arrangements to get No. 7 (?)[sic] O.T.U. up to full establishment, which would give a capacity for another 40 pilots. This ought to keep Fighter Command up to strength.

17. A.V.M. Evill pointed out that the O.T.Us. have an establishment for 80 pupils each, and that so long as they operate a 3 weeks' course it is only possible to get some 320 pilots out of the three O.T.Us. per month. Of these 320 pilots, say, 40 go to Blenheims and Defiants, which leaves 280 pilots for Spitfires and Hurricanes. Total casualties for the four weeks ending 4th September were 348; if the O.T.Us. turned out about 280 pilots in four weeks, there would be a nett loss of 68 pilots at the present casualty rates. These may well be exceeded.

18. The C-in-C. also pointed out that it takes time to make an O.T.U. pilot into an operational pilot, and A.V.M. Evill also observed that accidents, illness, etc, made the actual position worse than figures indicated. He submitted that it was a mistake to think that our out put capacity was equal to wastage.

19. A.V.M. PARK stated that the figures in 11 Group were going up to somewhere in the neighbourhood of 100 a week, and urged that it should be realised that there was a grave shortage of pilots. He pointed out as an example that to-day 9 squadrons started with less than 15 pilots; and yesterday, before lunch time, squadrons were being joined up and sent up as composite squadrons.

20. C-in-C. said to A.V.M. Douglas, that it must be realised that we are going down hill.

21. In this connection, A.V.M. Park pointed out that he strongly agreed with the C-in-C's views, that it was better to have 21 squadrons with not less than 21 pilots in each, than to have a greater number of squadrons with a lesser number of pilots.

22. The C-in-C. pointed out that the morale of a squadron was weakened through operating with insufficient pilots, - (pilots were overworked, could not get sufficient relaxation, etc,) - and emphasised that the question of morale was extremely important. He illustrated this contention by describing the operations of No. 151 Squadron in the Dunkerque evacuation; it was an extremely good fighting squadron, but even their morale was effected by their pilot position, and at the end they were not far from cracking. The C-in-C. to A.V.M. Douglas :- "I want you to take away from this meeting the feeling that the situation is extremely grave". He pointed out that the steps he was planning to take were absolutely essential if the persistent and heavy pressure being exerted by the enemy were maintained.

23. A.V.M. Park observed that some of his squadrons did 50 flying hours a day. Many of them carried out 4 patrols a day at full squadron strength, and those patrols sometimes meant as many as 3 heavy combats against very superior numbers. On top of that, their aerodromes have been bombed; the pilots are not getting the ??? same degree of rest, standard of meals, etc, through this bombing. Those squadrons were had definitely felt the shock, and that is quite a new factor, additional to the question of shortage of pilots.

24. A.V.M. Douglas stated that there were one or two things which could be done; one was the introduction of a further O.T.U.; that was one of the things which would have to be done if casualties continued at the present rate. He submitted that, according to the figures in his possession, the numbers would about break even; that was if the figures for the whole of August were considered. The C-in-C. pointed out that 25.it was necessary to consider the figures subsequent to about the 8th August if a true picture was to be obtained. A.V.M. Evill stated that if the present wastage continued for 4 weeks we should be definitely down in numbers.

25. The C-in-C. stated that he was working on the assumption that the present enemy scale of attack would persist.

26. A.V.M. Douglas stated that the question of a 4th O.T.U. would come very much into the picture, and submitted that this would keep the pilot strength approximately level. A.V.M. Evill submitted that to be effective in time, the additional O.T.U. would have to be in action very quickly. The C-in-C.also pointed out that it would entail a certain drain on the Command for personnel.

27. A.V.M. Douglas suggested that another alternative was to call on pilots of other squadrons. The C-in-C. pointed out that pilots had already been taken from Battle and Lysander squadrons, and it was agreed that the resources of Ferry Pilots Pools had no doubt been exhausted in this respect.

28. A.V.M. Douglas submitted that it was important to get non-operational pilots to operational standard as quickly as possible.

29. A.V.M. Park described the scheme of Sector Training Flights which were in existence at every Sector Station before the present heavy fighting commenced. The reason for these Flights was that none of the O.T.U. pilots were fit to fight until they had received a certain amount of R/T, etc, training. But now none of these Flights were functioning on account of because :-

  1. All experienced pilots were needed for fighting.
  2. All available aircraft were required for operations.
  3. Stations were now dispersed as a result of bombing.

30. The C-in-C. stated that this was a very important point, and instructed A.V.M. Evill to make a note for action.

31. A.V.M. Park pointed out that the loss of facilities for the final training of O.T.U. pilots raised a major question. He submitted that these pilots should go from the O.T.U. to squadrons in the North, where they could finish their training; squadrons in the line with a shortage of pilots should obtain operational pilots from these northern squadrons in exchange for the ex-O.T.U. pilots. This would mean that all squadrons in a quiet part of the country would be used for training.

32. The C-in-C. said that he appreciated this point, but said that it came down to the question of how many squadrons were maintained outside of the battle; he hoped always to maintain some fresh operational squadrons to change round with 11 Group's most fatigued squadrons. He pointed out that 11 Group would want a fresh squadron when, say, a squadron had been fighting for a month. The replacement squadrons must be operationally fit.

33. A.V.M. Park suggested that the two schemes could be run in parallel.

34. The C.in-C. pointed out that once he began sending to 11 Group trained pilots as well as fresh squadrons, ..

35. A.V.M. Park said that he only intended that this should be put into effect in the case of squadrons with a strength as low as 15 pilots . The C-in-C. pointed out that if he sent squadrons down with 15, in a single day they might lose say 3 pilots, and they would be down to 12. However, he agreed that the suggestion was a very proper one, i.e., that we should take away non operational pilots from squadrons in the line, and keep its non-operational pilots back when a replacement squadron is sent down to the line. It would mean that ?? a start would be made on the two squadrons (266 and 616), and then there would be 5 or 6 squadrons being robbed of their trained pilots.

36. A.V.M. Park thought that the enemy could not keep up their pressure for more than 3 weeks.

37. The C-in-C. said that he had seen A/Cdr. Stevenson's paper, and suggested that if that paper were to be believed the outlook was very gloomy indeed. He pointed out that events depended on a number of things, - Goering's personal ascendency, the criticisms of his policy, etc. But if we had to continue hard fighting with the German Air Force, then, on the basis of A/Cdr. Stevenson's paper, we should be hard put in a short time to keep No. 11 Group up to strength, and to keep any semblance of an Air Force outside of 11 Group. He suggested that one of the virtues of the scheme he proposed was that its weakness was not apparent. The thing which gave him greatest anxiety was the night flying aspect; however, that was one of the things that had to be accepted.

38. A.V.M. Douglas said that one of the firs he wished to submit the question of expenditure during August. Losses in the air, according to operational summaries, were 289; issues of Hurricanes and Spitfires were 684. He said that the difference between these figures had impressed the Air Ministry.

39. The C-in-C. pointed out that this coincided with A.M.S.O's scheme to create 9 new squadrons.

40. Explanations were put forward regarding this apparent discrepancy; A.V.M. Evill gave the figures in detail, and pointed out that there was no doubt that we did write-off over 600 aircraft.

41. A.V.M. Douglas stated that the actual stocks on 6th September in reserve were 186 Hurricanes and 105 Spitfires. He observed that 'on paper' Fighter Command had a surplus of over 100 Hurricanes.

42. C-in-C. pointed out that those figures were for 4 or 5 days ago; he had asked Lord Beaverbrook if the Command did not demand the figure of 22 per squadron would would it help if the figure was reduced to 18. Lord Beaverbrook had agreed, and C-in-C. suggested that this action probably accounted for the difference in the figures.

A.V.M. Evill

43. A.V.M. Evill stated that Hurricanes were 17 per squadron, and Spitfires were 18, or figures in that nature, serviceable and available in 12 hours, but not repairable in the Unit. The C.in-C. pointed out that the numbers classed "not repairable in Unit" must be counted.

44. G/C. Whitham raised the question of the precise meaning of the various columns on the daily state of aircraft return, with the object of ascertaining whether it was possible to get more out of the repair organisation. C-in-C. instructed him to cooperate with A.V.M. Nicholl to see what could be done in this respect. He said that he could do nothing more about aeroplanes ; he put his trust in Lord Beaverbrook, and if he could not keep the supply going, the C-in-C. was prepared to accept anything which could be fighting in the air fight.

45. A.V.M. Douglas stated that he was trying to assess how long we could hang on, as far as aircraft were concerned, with the present rate of casualties. Taking August, (an easy week), he thought we could continue with Hurricanes and Spitfires for about 2 months without having to 2 and re-equip. He went on to point out that we had the additional American machines to help us, and he did not think the aircraft situation was so desperate.

46. G/C. Whitham raised the question of the use which could be made of the Czechs and Polish personnel. The C-in-C. said he thought he would use them the Squadrons of these personnel to replace the casualties in the existing squadrons. He thought it was merely a gesture if we said we were forming new Squadrons with them; they would be given a squadron number, and he would take their pilots to strengthen the other squadrons.

47. A.V.M. Park asked if a figure could be given below which squadrons should be treated as serious cases, and have pilots drafted into them. He stressed that with less than 15 the remaining pilots became very fatigued, and again emphasised the effect on their morale.

48. The C-in-C. said he thought he would say that the number should be 16.

49. A.V.M. Nicholl observed that the two squadrons (266 and 616) were both Spitfires.

50. C-in-C. said that he would take the Hurricane Squadrons as they came out of the line. Omit. The pity was that No. 111 Squadron had just come down; he had intended to send them to Ireland, but had sent them to Drem today; he said he was going to make the Irish and No. 111 Squadrons change places, and then the proposed to bring the Irish squadron into the battle.

51. C-in-C. said that he could not give a number now, but that he had only mentioned the two squadrons because they did not do well in the battle last time. He would probably carry on a little bit liberally with replacements; He told A.V.M. Park that when he asked A.V.M, Evill for say, 2 more squadrons this evening, then he C-in-C would take one of those which came out of the line and one which has not distinguished itself; - it might be decided not to send them.

52. C-in-C. ???? asked A.V.M. Evill to make a note of No. 253 Squadron, and pointed out that obviously another Hurricane Squadron would be required.

53. C-in-C. omit said that although he did not want to put 111 Squadron on the shelf, he thought he would leave them in Ireland for a substantial rest. He pointed out that the difficulty was that a number of squadrons, not in 11 Group but, nevertheless, on the fringe of the fighting, were engaged in the fighting, and mentioned the death of S/Ldr. Pinkham of No. 19 Squadron. These squadrons on the f??g? ? fringe of the fighting were having their losses also.

54. A.V.M. Nicholl stated that it was difficult in some cases to withdraw aircraft from some squadrons with surplus aircraft because they would say that they actually only held so many aircraft which were serviceable.

55. C-in-C. said that it might be imperative to withdraw aircraft from Squadrons if they were not going to be engaged in the fighting - their Hurricanes and Spitfires would have to be taken away from them and be replaced by Buffaloes, Brewsters Curtises, etc.

56. The C-in-C. stated that he was of opinion that the next advance would be the introduction of the 4-cannon fighters. He thought that the fire power from these aircraft would completely ???neutralise the German armour, so that we should get better results even than we did at the beginning of the war. He observed, however, that the production of the Merlin XX was the dominant factor in that connection.

57. A.V.M. Douglas said, and C-in-C. agreed, that it would be folly to put 4 cannons into Hurricanes with Merlin II and III engines existing Merlin engines.

58. As regards the Whirlwind, the C-in-C. thought that, as the Hurricane flight is operational, there was no reason why the Whirlwinds should not go into the fight now soon, with their own Hurricanes to look after their tails. (This latter requirement was very necessary.) A.V.M. Park agreed with C-in-C. that this would be a desirable action.

58. A.V.M. Douglas said that the Cannon- Lysanders were not yet ready. C-in-C. was very perturbed by this statement as he had been given to understand that they would be ready.

Omit 59. The C-in-C. told the conference that he was sanguine about what would happen when the Whirlwinds were put the line. He thought that their tails would need to be watched, and asked A.V.M. Park to investigate immediately the question of Whirlwinds having Hurricanes to protect them from astern.

60. 59. In conclusion, the C-in-C. strongly emphasised that the matters which had been discussed must in no way be advertised. It was absolutely essential that the enemy should be made to believe that our strength was in no way diminished. No. 11 Group must have the best of everything, and go on fighting until, if necessary, everything had been used up; and then we would go on fighting with anything which could be fought in the air.

FC/S.20974.

AIR/16/330

Parts of this had been overwritten with xs, I have done my best to interpret what was originally written and used ? to represent characters that I can see but can't decipher.

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