Dowding writes to the Under Secretary at the Air Ministry



May 16, 1940


I have the honour to refer to the very serious calls which have recently been made upon the Home Defence Fighter Units in an attempt to stem the German invasion on the Continent.

I hope and believe that our Armies may yet be victorious in France and Belgium, but we have to face the possibility that they may be defeated.

In this case I presume that there is no-one who will deny that England should fight on, even though the remainder of the Continent of Europe is dominated by the Germans.

For this purpose it is necessary to retain some minimum fighter strength in this country and I must request that the Air Council will inform me what they consider this minimum strength to be, in order that I may make my dispositions accordingly.

I would remind the Air Council that the last estimate which they made as to the force necessary to defend this country was 52 Squadrons, and my strength has now been reduced to the equivalent of 36 Squadrons.

Once a decision has been reached as to the limit on which the Air Council and the Cabinet are prepared to stake the existence of the country, it should be made clear to the Allied Commanders on the Continent that not a single aeroplane from Fighter Command beyond the limit will be sent across the Channel, no matter how desperate the situation may become.

It will, of course, be remembered that the estimate of 52 Squadrons was based on the assumption that the attack would come from the eastwards except in so far as the defences might be outflanked in flight. We have now to face the possibility that attacks may come from Spain or even from the North coast of France. The result is that our line is very much extended at the same time as our resources are reduced.

I must point out that within the last few days the equivalent of 10 Squadrons have been sent to France, that the Hurricane Squadrons remaining in this country are seriously depleted, and that the more Squadrons which are sent to France the higher will be the wastage and the more insistent the demands for reinforcements.

I must therefore request that as a matter of paramount urgency the Air Ministry will consider and decide what level of strength is to be left to the Fighter Command for the defences of this country, and will assure me that when this level has been reached, not one fighter will be sent across the Channel however urgent and insistent the appeals for help may be.

I believe that, if an adequate fighter force is kept in this country, if the fleet remains in being, and if Home Forces are suitably organised to resist invasion, we should be able to carry on the war single handed for some time, if not indefinitely. But, if the Home Defence Force is drained away in desperate attempts to remedy the situation in France, defeat in France will involve the final, complete and irremediable defeat of this country.

I have the honour to be,
Your obedient Servant,

Air Chief Marshal,
Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief,
Fighter Command,Royal Air Force.

Source: Dowding Papers

A covering letter from Newell states:

I believe that the point has how been reached where sending more fighter squadrons to France will not affect the outcome of the battle.

Dowding arrives at Bentley Priory

Peter Wykeham:

True to character from the first, Dowding arrived at the gate sharp at none o'clock in the morning. Equally true to character, he was both unexpected and unaccompanied, and the guard only let him in after that solemn inspection of a pass that goes by the name of Security. No staff had yet arrived, and there was only a holding party under the command of the Camp Commandant, but as he was away for the day on business, the honours were done by Sergeant Cornthwaite, the N.C.O. in charge of the Orderly Room. Cornthwaite was not the sort of man to get flustered over a sudden visitation of this kind, but he was relieved to learn that the lack of a formal meeting suited Dowding perfectly, and that the Air Marshall would be content to look quietly around the premises under his guidance. Together they explored the Priory and grounds. When the tour was over, the new Commander-in-Chief selected a room looking south that contained some office furniture, and told Cornthwaite to put his name on the door.

Luftwaffe conference at The Hague

Göring holds a conference at The Hague which is attended by all the senior commanders of the Luftwaffe where plans for the air war against Britain are discussed. These plans are a revision of those initially rejected on 25th July.

After what is later described as extravagant praise of the role the Luftwaffe played in the fall of France, Göring announces:

And now, gentlemen, the Führer has ordered me to crush Britain with my Luftwaffe. By means of hard blows I plan to have this enemy, who has already suffered a decisive moral defeat, down on his knees in the nearest future, so that an occupation of the island by our troops can proceed without any risk.

Göring then speaks disparagingly of the number and quality of the R.A.F.'s fighters saying:

Count how many bombers we can put into the sky for this campaign!

Göring is talking about 4,500 but Osterkamp tells him it is between 1,500 and 2,000 and the Luftflotten commanders reveal the true number is under 700.

Osterkamp later recalls that he was "completely staggered" and Göring, whose "consternation seemed genuine", asked "Is this my Luftwaffe?"

Göring and his commanders, Kesselring and Sperrle, favoured different approaches. Kesselring and Sperrle advised launching a strategic air war against the RAF, that included attacks on aircraft production facilities, but Göring demanded a blitzkrieg-style war similar to the attacks on Poland and France. Göring was firmly convinced that air superiority could be achieved in five days, and air supremacy in 13 days, a period that would be followed by a series of attacks advancing north sector by sector.