(Setting: RAF Tangmere: A new pilot observes his comrades, Late August 1940)
The telephone went. The eruption of swearing was truly vile – not just rude but vehement. The clerk was absent for some reason, so the CO grabbed the receiver himself, still chewing. He managed a mere, “MMM.”
The others waited absolutely still, staring at him. He gestured with his hand for them to relax and they audibly unwound, starting to eat and drink more calmly. The CO was nodding. “Um hum. Um hum. OK. Thanks, Bridges.”
“Hornchurch was hit while 54 was still on the ground. They lost a whole section – though not the pilots, it seems – and Biggin Hill was struck again. Second time today. They also gave Debden, North Weald and Croyden a pasting. It seems Jerry really is going for the airfields around London. 12 Group was asked to patrol London and the 11 Group ‘dromes while the squadrons refuelled, but they failed to show up in time.”
“Typical 12 Group,” a man with a posh accent commented.
“Leigh-Mallory thinks his squadrons are more effective if they are flown in a wing. He likes to send them in together,” the CO explained.
“Well, I like that idea. It would be a nice change not to be outnumbered ten-to-one!”
“We never are out-numbered by that many, Woody,” the CO countered very seriously. “And the odds are identical whether we deploy in big wings or squadrons. The difference is at best psychological, and frankly I much prefer things the way they are.”
“Why?” the New Zealander asked bluntly, and by the nodding around the dispersal, Ainsworth had the impression they all wanted to know.
“Because large gaggles just get in each other’s way. Look at the 109s. We generally have somewhere over thirty or even sixty of the buggers up there when we attack, but when it comes down to it, we only fight with about a score. The others never get a chance.”
“Maybe, but frankly, once – just once – I’d like to face them on equal terms.”
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