Battle of Britain: "The Luftwaffe doomed itself by being overconfident and undermanned"

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On the second day of September 1940, Siegfried Bethke, a young 23-three year-old German fighter pilot, sat at his fighter group’s airfield at Beaumont-le-Roger, in Normandy, jotting in his diary.

It had been given to him exactly a year earlier by his fiancée who had inscribed it, “In these momentous times one must keep a diary. I wonder what words you will write here.”

Rather breathless entries conveying excitement and high confidence had characterised much of his earlier scribbles as the Luftwaffe had seemingly swept all before it, but now the tone had begun to change to one of agitation and frustration. Every time they finally reached England, the British fighters were invariably already there, waiting above them.

“We can almost never surprise them,” he noted.
Even worse, there was little time to engage with the enemy – their Messerschmitt 109s did not really have the range for what was required of them; fear of ditching in the Channel through lack of fuel haunted them all. As they were all well aware, the strip of sea separating Britain from France might look narrow from 20,000 feet but it was enormous when a lone pilot was left treading water, waiting for a rescue launch that would almost certainly never find them.

And there was an even more serious problem by this first week of September: a severe shortage of aircraft. British pilots might see skies that were appeared to be full of black crosses, but in fact numbers were diminishing fast. Each fighter staffel – or squadron – was supposed to have 12 aircraft, Bethke had just five left in his....

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