Leconfield, July 1941. Part of the No. 313 Squadron core staff members. Sitting F/Lt Thomas W.Gillen, F/O Karel Vykoukal (+), S/Ldr Gordon L. Sinclair, DFC,

P/O Jaroslav Muzika, F/O Frantisek Fajtl and Sgt Prokop Brazda (+), standing Sgt Jiri Reznicek, Sgt Vaclav Truhlar, F/O A. Walsham (deputy), P/O Vaclav Jicha (+),

F/O Vaclav Hajek, F/O Felix Zboril, Sgt Bohumil Dubec, Sgt Jiri Kucera, Sgt Vaclav Foglar. (author’s collection)

taken, even at the cost of mistakes and heavy losses.

The most intense of their action came about through what were codenamed

the ‘Circus’ operations, which were the main component of Fighter Command’s

duties through 1941 and 1942. The Circus operations involved the use of small

bomber formations (usually Blenheims and later on, Bostons) over occupied

France with an escort of up to 350 fighters. The purpose of these flights, to

force the Luftwaffe into responding and destroying its aircraft in air combat,

was fundamentally sound, but the actual methods used were based on some

false premises. The insufficient range of the escort fighters limited Circus operations to the shores of occupied France, Belgium and Holland, not extending

further than Lille or Rouen. These were locations that presented no significant

goals that the Germans would want to protect at all costs. For example, the

destruction of northern French electrical stations caused inconvenience mainly

to the local population, because any important military targets in the area

were independent of these power grids.

On top of that, although the Germans were fighting against growing opposition, they still held several key advantages. For one, they possessed an effective early warning system based on the Freya radar system. This gave sufficient

warning to mount a defense that could attack from a higher altitude out of the

sun and make a quick getaway. This tactic, called ‘hit and run’ by the British and

became a German standard, caused a lot of losses to the British, often higher

than those suffered by the Germans. This also provided the Germans with the

significant advantage of any shot down or damaged aircraft was faced with

the prospect of a forced landing or bailing out over friendly territory. For an

RAF pilot, it meant, at best, the spending of the remainder of the war behind

barbed wire fences of a POW camp. Another advantage enjoyed by the Germans that compounded their self-confidence, was in the technology used. Their

Bf 109F provided a superior performance level to the Spitfire Mk.I and II, to

say nothing of all versions of the Hurricane. The new Spitfire Mk.V, introduced

into service in the spring of 1941, could meet the German fighter on equal

terms, but in the fall of that year, the Fw 190A was introduced over the English

Channel, which tipped the scales of power for some time to come. Tough times

had arrived for Fighter Command.

it did so under the promotion of calling it a ‘non-stop offensive’. With respect

to the results attained, though, the Germans dubbed it the ‘nonsense offensive’.

Through the first two years of its duration, much higher losses were suffered by

the attackers than the defenders.

The aggressive British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, used to thinking in

broader terms and associations, reacted to the losses by stating ‘we can afford

them much more than they can…’ He was well aware of the fact that the numerically superior Allied attacker is bound to suffer greater losses than the German

defender, due to his lower numbers and qualitative edge in equipment. In his

message to the Chiefs of Staff on January 10th, 1942, he commented ‘with

respect to anticipated deliveries, we can afford losses at a rate of two to one.

Every German pilot or aircraft that is taken out of combat in 1942 has the same

value as two in 1943. By way of the strain of constant air combat, we will be

able to absorb the enemy’s air power to beyond his ability to produce and train

replacements. In this way, we will be able to take the initiative again, because the

enemy’s resources will be taxed just as ours were, in an effort to keep his head

above water.’ 16

Despite the cynicism of a calculation of such a loss ratio (although the British

propaganda machine naturally presented the concept in a different light), the

politics of it were essentially sound, as Churchill’s assumptions were proving to

be correct. It even showed itself to be accurate during the intense air battles

the following year on August 19th, 1942 in the area of the French port town

of Dieppe (in the combined operations ‘Jubilee’). The loss ratio of 2:1 was basically ‘maintained’ and the Germans were forced to scrape the bottom of the

barrel of their resources to a much greater extent than the Allies were. 17 It is

necessary to note that Frantisek Fajtl did not take part in these battles, having

been shot down in May over occupied France and making his way through

Franco’s Spain, and by the time these battles were raging, Fajtl was preparing

to make his way from Gibraltar back to England.

The Non-stop Offensive was a very long and rough road, dotted by the

wrecks of hundreds of Spitfires at the bottom of the English Channel and enemy shores, but ultimately bore the fruit that was hoped for. Although German

fighters were at their height in 1942, they only managed to keep their heads

When Fighter Command initiated its daylight attacks over occupied Europe,

INFO Eduard - DECEMBER 2020