“Find the enemy; strike the enemy; protect our ships – that is the triple task of Coastal Command, in which the Royal Navy co-operates with the Royal Air Force” – Air Ministry account of Coastal Command in the Battle of the Seas 1939-42
Coastal Command’s main role was to control all air units working with the Royal Navy. This included the Fleet Air Arm until this came under direct command of the Admiralty, when its principal task then became to provide shore-based squadrons for the defence of trade and for co-operation with the Royal Navy in home waters.
An Air Staff memorandum (July 30th 1940) on a seaborne invasion reasoned that Germany would have to gain air supremacy in order to secure her lines of sea communication. With the invasion of France Germany could now concentrate her whole air force against Britain. Consequently it assumed (correctly as events soon proved) that the first phase of any invasion attempt would be a large scale air offensive against fighter aerodromes and organization and factories. It was also probable that Germany may attempt to weaken the Navy by attacks on naval bases on the East and South-east coasts.
In this first phase of operations the role of Coastal Command was to continue with reconnaissance to give early warning of troop concentrations in the vicinity of ports and the movement and concentration of ships which may indicate an invasion. In fact since Jun 6th Coastal Command had been instructed to keep watch on all ports from which an invasion fleet might be expected to sail from. On Jun 23th another series of patrols was added to photograph everything in the ports and thus discover hostile movements from which it would be possible to deduce the German High Command’s intention. Coastal Command flew an elaborate series of daily patrols throughout the summer months of 1940, including the use of the new A.S.V (Air-to-Surface Radar). These patrols were designed to cover all approaches to the United Kingdom. Patrols set off at dawn and towards evening to cover the North Sea from the Shetlands to East Anglia and the approaches to Britain from the east, south and south-west. At night patrols between The Humber and Nore were undertaken to detect fast surface craft that may have left after sunset. The Channel ports between Dunkirk to Dieppe and Le Havre to Cherbourg were often watched twice daily.
Many sorties were also made by aircraft of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit, mainly covering the potential invasion bases, which used Hudsons and Spitfires specially lightened to increase speed, range and ceiling.
A number of aircraft from Coastal Command also took part in bombing ports and aerodromes in conjunction with Bomber Command, targets included Den Helder, Ijmuiden, Willemsoord, Rotterdam, Calais, Boulogne, Cherbourg, Le Havre and Lorient. Reconnaissance patrols were also allowed to attack targets if circumstances permitted after completing their patrol. A Sunderland even attacked enemy seaplanes at Tromso harbour on Aug 26th.
Two types of plane in use with Coastal Command, 1940:
Left - Hudsons. Above - Ansons
Should Germany decide to launch a seaborne invasion, the invasion would be in three phases:
I Concentration of troops and shipping at points of departure
II The voyage from continental coasts to the British coast
III The establishment of a bridge head in Britain.
The role of Coastal Command would be to continue with reconnaissance and undertake bombing and torpedo attacks against enemy transports and vessels at their point of departure.
Above: Coastal Command Reconnaissance. Left - invasion barges at Boulogne. Right - damage from bombing raids at Cherbourg
Coastal Command was to provide long range fighter support for naval forces engaged in destroying enemy transports especially if these were outside the range of short range fighters. It would also continue with bombing and torpedo attacks on enemy vessels and also reconnaissance to give warning of and to shadow any additional enemy expeditions.
Coastal Command would continue with reconnaissance and bombing and torpedo attacks.
Arrangements were made with the Admiralty and Coastal Command for the deployment of the Fleet Air Arm training aircraft in an operational role in the event of invasion under the “Banquet Alert Scheme”. Coastal Command also had the use of two strategical reconnaissance squadrons from No 22 Group. In the event of invasion these would be detached from Coastal Command and would be deployed at an aerodrome near GHQ to provide immediate reconnaissance for GHQ Home Forces.
Fleet Air Arm
The Fleet Air Arm was administered by the Admiralty from May 1939 when the Navy took over complete charge from the RAF. It operated from both ships and land bases which included the Naval Air Stations at Lee-on-Solent (HMS Doedalus), Worthy Down (HMS Kestrel), Ford (HMS Peregrine), Donibristle (HMS Merlin) and Hatston (HMS Sparrowhawk). Fleet Air Arm operated mostly in the Northern Waters either from land bases or the Aircraft carrier HMS Furious, employed on northern patrols from June 1940 – October 1941. For example an attack on Bergen was carried out with Skua bombers based at Hatston on Aug 26th.
Above: Skua dive bomber
Invasion Memoranda, Air Ministry, TNA
Cabinet papers, TNA
Coastal Command – The Air Ministry Account of the Part Played by Coastal Command in the Battle of the Seas 1939-1942, HMSO, 1942