In the little farming hamlet of Minster, just outside Manston Fighter Command airfield, the old potbellied Home Guard sergeant looks up from his position in the sandbagged embplacement at the ring of faces, sitting on the back of trucks and on top of ammunition cases around him. They're either too young, or too bloody old
, he tells himself. Like me. The last war was supposed to be the war to end all wars. What am I doing here again?
He shakes the mood off, and starts.
"Right you lot, listen up! Today we are going to explore the art of improvisation, of making do with material lying around - and where this fails, using psychology to persuade enemy tank commanders, for instance, that the narrow defile through which he must pass is mined or booby trapped in some way.
"We are not completely useless against moving armour, and if we can halt it briefly we have a chance with home-made bombs or Molotov cocktails; there is also the chance that a turret might be opened giving us a slight opportunity of dropping a grenade into the tank. Of course, if the tank commander is foolish enough to pop his head up — Bingo!"
The group chuckles, nervously.
"Chains and cables running between trees can be made into psychological barriers to tanks by attaching an imitation bomb to them, an impression which should be augmented by running a length of cable from it to a position out of sight of a tank commander. These positions can be made even more authentic by breaking up the surface immediately in front of the obstacle and burying an old soup plate, or similar object.
"We have good supplies of .300 ammo available, unlike many other units. We also have adequate supplies of .303 for the Lewis gun and some .45 for the Thompsons. And we 'ave this beauty, gentlemen...it's, uh..." He turns around.
The group peers, almost in awe, at the anti-tank cannon in the sandbagged pit, being readied by two regulars from the 2nd London Infantry. One of them looks up, "It's a 2 pounder, sergeant," he says. "We're sighting it on the road down there," he points across cattle pasture to the road leading into Manston. "Jerry tries to move up that road - wham! You give 'im a broadside," he pats the barrel, "We calls her Betsy."24 September, afternoon. S-tag +2
Transport Fleet C, with the last elements of the delayed first echelon of German troops from Calais, is making for Folkestone. On board the transports Europa, Bremen, Gneisau and Postdam are troops of the 1st Mountain Division, 7th Infantry Division, and Panzer Battalion A of the VII Army Corps. The bulk of the British Home Fleet is out of position in the North Sea, drawn by a sighting of the light Cruisers Emden, Nurnberg and Koln in the company of 11 steamers headed West from Norwegian waters. On land, German armour of General Ferdinand Schaal's 10th Panzer has broken through British lines at Selstead and is approaching Canterbury unopposed, delayed only by civilian refugee traffic. The 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions stand ready to meet them at Kingston. Dover remains in British hands with 29th Infantry Brigade and 1st London Division giving no ground. Southwest of Manston, Fallschirmjaeger Kampfgruppe Brauer, consisting of a full parachute battalion including engineers and light vehicles has been landed in gliders and Ju52s and is marshalling on the Minster to Manston road.
Light patrol vehicles and motorcyles of Kampfgruppe Brauer form a vanguard for a push on Manston. Their objective: force a way through the airfield defences for troops on foot to overrun the RAF base and hold it long enough for reinforcements to be flown in. With German fighters and fighter bombers able to fly out Manston and Hawkinge, the whole of SE England airspace will be under Luftwaffe control.
Their landing was uneventful. With British forces heavily engaged around Dover and Canterbury to the West, they had expected only light resistance, but so far they have encountered no British forces at all. The small convoy reaches the Minster to Manston road and turns toward Manston. All is quiet. They pull out of the fields, and onto the Minster to Manston road. Half a platoon of armoured scouts brought over in Ju52s which were crashed in a field and written off, and a dozen motorcycles with mounted MG 15s brought in by glider. Behind them is a full company of paratroops. It will have to be enough, they are the last unit of the 7th Flieger to join the battle.
Suddenly the lead patrol car bursts into flames and the convoy rocks to a halt. AT gun!
Above Manston, flying a defensive air patrol, Spitfires of 64 Squadron see the smoke rising and turn to investigate.
Up the hill, in the lee of some trees, the 2 pounder and crew reload.
The armoured cars turrets traverse, and they open fire with MG and 20mm cannon. A truck bursts into flames beside the gun pit. Mortar rounds begin to creep up the hill toward the emplacement.
Unperturbed, the spotter from the 2nd London calls another target as a second vehicle is hit.
The lead Spitfire sees the column of motorcycles pushing through a wheat field toward the road and lines up for a strafing run.
His rounds thump and flash as they march across the line of troops.
To the West, Bf110s of Erprobungsgruppe 210 close on Manston. Their objective, to suppress enemy AAA and AT positions around the airfield to assist the attack which should be underway within the next half hour. They are unaware that battle has already been joined.
The Spitfires close on the armoured cars now. Knowing their .303s are unlikely to make much impact, but hoping to disrupt their advance.
A second AT round slams into the convoy as the Spitfire flashes overhead. Now only one remains. The motorcyle troops open fire on the AT position, trying to suppress it.
Erpro 210 arrives on the scene. Their commander quickly assesses the situation and sends two of his machines down on Minster.
Bombs ripple across the hillside, and the British emplacement erupts in flame.
The second echelon of Bf110s sweeps in. Spotting a British camp, a Zerstorer pilot lines up on the middle of a row of tents, and unloads, feeling his machine jump into the air as the bombs drop away. Then with horror, he sees the large white crosses on the tent! A field hospital!
It is too late to do anything. His bombs slam into the hospital, ripping it apart.Mein Gott, what did we just do?
both he and his gunner ask themselves, silently.
They don't have time for more recriminations with themselves, as the 64 Sq Spitfires round on them.