What were The Battle of Britain Innovations of 1940?
“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”, Winston Churchill, 20 August 1940. House of Commons.
Yesterday, 18th August, marks the 75 anniversary of the most difficult day in the Battle of Britain, whereby the German Luftwaffe almost totally destroyed Britain’s Fighter Command infrastructure. The air offensive, which ran from 10 July until 31 October, 1940, aimed at attaining air superiority over the Channel Sea, was a prerequisite to the launch of a seaborne invasion force (codenamed Operation Sea Lion). At the start of the battle, Fighter Command had 53 squadrons, each with an establishment of 12 aircraft, in total around 630 aircraft. The Luftwaffe’s strength was about 2,250 combat ready aircraft, of which no fewer than 1,000 were fighters.
What were the WW2 Innovations that kept Hitler overrunning Britain?
1. Radar Detection.
Radar and indeed Radio waves were relatively new. Chain Home (or CH) were constructed along the South and East coasts of Britain. The broadcast side was formed from two 300-ft (90-m) tall steel towers strung with a series of antennas between them. A second set of 240-ft (73-m) tall wooden towers were used for reception, with a series of crossed antennas at various heights up to 215 ft (65 m). Most stations had more than one set of each antenna, tuned to operate at different frequencies. When destroyed by bombing, they were relatively simple to repair.
2. Fighter Command and Control Infrastructure.
Air Chief Marshal, Sir Hugh Dowding, decided to split his fighter resources into 4 groups numbered 11 through 14. Group 11 bore the brunt of the Luftwafe bomber force stretching from East Anglia to the docks of Southampton including Greater London. All Groups had a central command post that collected information from Outlying Airfields, Radar Stations, and Manual Air Observers. All telephone lines were buried underground and sealed with concrete making them indestructible.
3. The Spitfire Fighter.
The Spitfire was a military adaption of the Supermaine “S” series seaplanes that won the Schneider Trophy three times in a row in 1927, 1929 and 1931, then considered the “Blue Ribbon” standard for all “Speed Records”, and massive public interest. The Rolls Royce Merlin V12, Aluminum Space Frame and an Elliptical Wing gave the Spitfire a small but significant advantage to climb, bank and dive. If you want to hear the roar of a Merlin Engine, see the last part of Saving Private Ryan when an American P51 saves the bridge where Ryan and Capt. Miller were pinned down.
What was the British Strategy?
Sir Hugh Dowding, decided to divide his force across many airfields and engage with Squadron strength (12 planes) using the new Radar and Command and Control Infrastructure to guide them to the nearest bomber formation.
Dowding was a also resourceful manager behind the scenes. Promoting execution-at-all-costs managers resposnable for aircraft production, repair and aircrews, to keep the Germans second guessing the actual strength of Fighter Command. The Germans had calculated that there were only 300 fighters available at the start. By engaging a war of attrition he knew that to “win” the battle he had to keep the Germans at bay until September when the weather would make a sea crossing difficult. Hitler called of Operation Sea Lion on the 31st October, 1940.
What are the Lessons we can draw from History?
1. In the late 1930s, radar innovations were a potential game changer.
An unproven technology, which was being, modified daily in the field to improve quality. Radar was great at 2D vector location but Manual Air Observers with binoculars were required to provide a reliable confirmation of the height vector, crucial to calculate an intercept time for a fighter squadron. This pivot-until-it-works is typical of I+D Zone Innovations.
Latter the Germans perfected precision night bombing using two crossing paths to indicate targets during the Blitz in an attempt to bludgeon Britain to surrender by civilian casualties.
2. To win a battle, you don’t necessary need to have the biggest force but strike fast with surgical precision.
We often see this in the place-all-bets Transition in our 3 Zone Innovation.
3. Organization Design.
To deploy the Innovations at scale, required unconventional approach to fighting the battle.
– Agile Teams supported by a centralized command and control proved successful. Once airborne, Squadron leaders had complete control over the tactics of engagement. This is simular to Amazon’s 2 Pizza Teams.
– Talent. The average life expectancy for a new Pilot was 2 days. This improved significantly if the pilot made it through the first week. Even with the help of Canadian, USA, NZ, Australian, Polish and Czech air crews, Britain came perilously close to loosing the Battle due to lack of pilots. Over the whole campaign, Fighter Command lost 537 aircrew killed and as many again badly injured out some 3,000 aircrew who took part in the battle. The Luftwaffe lost almost five times as many men (2,662) and more than 6,000 wounded or captured. For the first time, Women made up most of the command and control teams.
– Britain developed a highly optimized supply chain churning out new planes, while gutting crashed airframes to repair existing planes.
4. Focus on the Goal.
More often than not the German bombers would drop the payload on the target of cities, factories and ports, only to shot down on the return leg across the channel with a 100% loss of Plane and Crew. This caused many British Politicians to question the Squadron vs. Big Wing of 60+ aircraft, but played perfectly to the war attrition, which finally won the battle.