Friday, 6 June 2014

Operation Banquet - British bombers over the beaches

Tiger moth Trainers were to carry out Banquet
Desperate times call for desperate measures and never has Great Britain been as desperate as it was in
the summer of 1940.

As 2400 German aircraft bombarded the RAF's fighter command and around 3000 barges were being pooled to transfer the 6th and 9th Armies across the English Channel. The British Military began looking at contingences in case the RAF were unable to overcome the odds.

As the majority of the light and medium bombers would be ear marked for attacking the heavily defended invasion fleet and ports, a new plan had to be organised for attacking the beaches and on the 13th July a survey of available aircraft for operations was ordered. The solution was Operation Banquet.

Banquet was divided into several different phases depending on where the aircraft were coming from be it Banquet Civil (using Civilian aircraft - which was dropped quickly), Banquet 6 (absorption of some of Group 6 units), Banquet 22 (absorbing 22 group army co-operation units), Banquet Alert (Fleet air arm training units under RAF Costal command) and Banquet Training. In all 350 aircraft of various types and quality were thrown together for this last ditch exercise.

Banquet Training and Alert are the most concerning as they consisted of trainee pilots considered to be of "a certain level of ability" and their instructors.

The aircraft they were to be assigned were modified Tiger moth trainer bi-planes which lacked basic defensive armament, self sealing fuel tanks or armour. They also lacked bombsights and only had racks that had been designed for small bombs weighing about 9kg.

The general plan was for the Tiger Moths to fly over the target once to identify it and then turn around and go into a shallow dive and release their bombs. these small bombs would have been very ineffective against enemy armour but could have proved deadly to infantry on the ground.

The problem was that the Tiger Moths would be attacking individually with only a handful of bombs under fire from anything the German's could fire at them and with the lack of armour and slow speed would have meant that even the small arms fire carried by infantrymen could have brought the planes down.

Further to that the inexperienced pilots would have been easy pickings in their trudging bi-planes to the Bf 109 E fighters.

The pilots spent the summer of 1940 practicing bombing but due to shortages the Tiger moths were flown from the front cockpits whilst a second man dropped bricks out of the rear cockpit to simulate the drop.

Paddy Denton, a young Bomber Command trainee had this to say of Banquet.

It was an indication of how ill prepared for war we, as a nation were. When there was some sort of threat of attack, presumably from the sea, some of the more serviceable Tiger moths were fitted with bomb racks and tiny little bombs, about 3lb, I would have thought.
These appalling threats to an invader were rehearsed without the benefit of Bombsight or anything so sophisticated by a neat HEAT Robinson device of little leavers in front of the intrepid aviator.
The experience did make me ponder about the possible outcome of the war.
(Bomber Crew, P. 43)

There was also another branch of Banquet that had Tiger Moths fitted with long metallic blades with the notion that they would fly through clouds of paratroopers and cut their parachute chords or the unfortunate soldiers in half immune from enemy fire as they would be in close proximity to their own troops!

So could Banquet have been pulled off?

In the desperate times of a German invasion of the British Isles there is no doubt that these 350 aircraft would have been thrown at the beaches swarming with German soldiers or concentrations of Paratroopers and a sizable chunk may have actually reached their targets.

The Luftwaffe fielded approximately 600 Bf 109s which had the task of providing escorts to any bomber attacks, sweeping the beaches to protect the infantry and forming an aerial umbrella over the landing craft to protect against the RAF's other bombers. All this over a front stretching from the Isle of Wight to Ramsgate! It would be fair to say they would have been very stretched allowing the aircraft of Banquet to get through.

There is also a good chance that the Tiger moths would have been difficult to intercept due to their slow speed. In the hands of a good pilot a biplane can avoid getting hit by rolling away. By the time the 109 realised they had missed and come around the Biplane would have got away. Sadly these would not be experienced pilots and their unarmoured crates would have broken up after a few rounds.

The biggest risk would have come from ground fire and although the soldiers would have had more pressing issues, like British machine gun posts and hard points, there is no doubt some form of defensive fire would have been thrown up .

Banquet would have been an unpleasant surprise for a German invader and I have no doubt that in Britain's most desperate hour these aircraft would have taken off. It would have been a gallant yet bloody defence of England's shores.

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