On with the story...(apologies in advance that some of the screens are quite dark, but it is a night mission!)S-tag +1, 23 September 1300
At 1300 the British High Command convened at Chequers for a briefing on the invasion situation. It quickly became clear that GHQ Stop Line was holding at Bexhill and Eastbourne, and that an expected landing by German forces at Southend was a feint to draw British forces north. However the main German push was developing in the Folkestone area, aided by the capture of both Lympne, and Folkestone, and there was a significant risk the British lines would collapse. If this happened, the Fighter Command airfield at Hawkinge and the city of Canterbury would lie open. German forces could then isolate Kent, the SW of England, and quickly secure the port of Dover and Manston airfield to provide a reliable supply line between the European mainland and Britain. The first part of the conference had been spent debating the wisdom, and necessity, of committing the heavy ships of the British Home Fleet to disrupt German resupply shipping, without first having secured air superiority over the Channel.
"With German fighter bombers flying out of our own damned airfields, we would be sending our capital ships to their certain doom!" argued Admiral Dudley Pound, First Sea Lord. Pound was still smarting from the loss of nearly a dozen destroyers and the Cruiser Curlew from air attack during the Dunkirk evacuation and the crippling damage delivered to other heavy ships such as the Cruisers Gloucester in July and the Liverpool in October. While his intelligence officers told him the risk of losses to German AP bombs was low, bitter experience had taught him otherwise. Nonetheless, he was ordered by Churchill to commit the Home Fleet to the disruption of German resupply lines in the Channel.
The British PM then turned his attention to the air war. He pored over the situation map, then jabbed the butt of his cigar down on Lympne. But his first question was not to the Air Chief Marshall, it was to the Chief of the General Staff, Marshall John Dill, "Hmmm...General...how do you rate your chances of taking back Lympne?"
Dill hesitated, "Less than spectacular, Prime Minister," he traced his finger along the line of hills and wooded country from Folkestone to Hythe, "We are barely holding the German main thrust along this line. To pull any of my forces out for an attack on Lympne could weaken the line irrevocably."
Churchill considered this, then waved at a unit marker behind the line, "What is this unit?"
Dill peered, "That is a small mobile reserve unit Prime Minister, a detachment of the 1st Tank - a handful of Valentines and motorised troop transports. It is, in fact, our only armoured reserve along that section of the line," he warned.
"Send it against Lympne," Churchill decided. "We have one chance to unseat the Luftwaffe from British soil and it is now. If you do not succeed," he turned to the Air Marshall, Charles Portal, "...if you do not succeed John, then Charles, I want Bomber Command to reduce Lympne to a blackened and fallow field by morning light." Both men nodded gravely.
Churchill returned to the map, squinting at a large red counter placed over Kiln Wood, where Tiger Moth pilots had reported German Armour was being marshalled in Brigade strength. "Hmmm...the main thrust appears to be developing here. Gentlemen, if this be Herr Hitler's Armoured Fist, then I would dearly love to rap his knuckles tonight." His eyes glinted, "Let us turn our minds to how."
S-tag +1, 23 September 1930
As darkness closed at 1930 hours, volunteers from the British 3rd Commando Battalion finished placing incendiary charges around the German armour encampment at Kiln Wood, checked their watches and their weapons, and chose their targets. They knew very few of them would survive the next half hour. At 1933 hours, they detonated their explosives, and opened fire on German positions within the clearing.
Above them, circling and waiting for the incendiaries to signal the start of the operation, newly commissioned cannon armed Beaufighter night fighters of 25 Squadron banked for their attack run, then swooped on Kiln Wood leaving mayhem and destruction in their wake.
Circling protectively, Spitfires of 64 Squadron watched both the fight on the ground, and skies above. At 19:45 hours precisely, Wellingtons of bomber command began their ingress, using the spreading fires in the German encampment to guide their run.
To the West, a detachment of the British 1st Tank Battalion, barely company sized, raced toward the German defences at Lympne. 2 miles short of the field, a German 88mm gun thundered and the British column scattered in panic.
The 64 Sq spitfires now turned their attention to Lympne, strafing parked aircraft to try to sow confusion among the defenders, the boom of tank cannons in the west now mingling with the wail of air raid sirens.
Sitting at readiness on the field at Lympne, Bf110s of ZG76 rolled quickly into the sky, and were soon set upon by the 64 Sq Spitfires.
Underestimating the sting of the Bf110s rear gun, one of the Spitfires took several rounds in his engine, and with his machine overheating decided his only option was to bail.
His arms flailing, he tried in vain to open his parachute. The sea swallowed him with barely a splash.
The Valentines had quickly flanked the German 88 cannon and silenced it, but not before most of the troop transports had been lost. Under fire from light arms, the tank commander decided to press on - at the very least, they could bring a halt to night time operations at the German airfield.
Two more Valentines became burning coffins as the group breached the German lines. Flying past the shocked German defences at speed, the remaining 3 Valentines burst onto the airfield at Lympne and opened fire on parked aircraft, fuel and ammunition stores.
German light AT guns were swung urgently 180 degrees to face the unexpected threat, and their rounds hammered against the hulls of the British tanks.
The first few rounds failed to stop the Valentines. They kept firing, turning Heinkels and Fockers into blazing wrecks.
But one by one, the British tanks fell to the AT guns, until the last finally ground to a halt, took a fatal broadside from the German guns...
The time was 20:03. Lympne airfield remained in German hands. The German armour spearhead at Kiln Wood had sustained heavy losses, but Germany now had 10 Divisions ashore.
At Bomber Command HQ, Air Marshal Sir Richard Peirse received the simple but chilling message he had been dreading, "Proceed night attack on Lympne. Operations to continue until Luftwaffe presence at Lympne eliminated