Bridges stood tensely at the balcony of the gallery, looking down on the map table below. The WAAFs were diligently trying to plot the position of the hostile aircraft based on RDF and Observer Corps reports. They were very smart and neat, their hair rolled above their collars, buttons and shoes polished, and their stockings straight. Not a word was uttered. They listened and responded with calm efficiency although the RT transmissions from the pilots had disintegrated from disciplined reports into shouts of warning, cries of alarm and screamed curses.
Bridges, seeing the young women before him and hearing the language crackling in over the airwaves, stiffened with embarrassment. He knew his girls, and he knew they weren’t used to hearing such things. But they didn’t even glance up, much less giggle in embarrassment. They concentrated on their job. They already understood what that blistering language implied – mortal danger.
While the pilots were clearly fighting for their lives, focused only on what they had in their sights or on their tails, Bridges had the misfortune of seeing the whole picture. The squadron had been sent to assist the escort squadron of a westbound convoy, CW8, which had just passed through the Straits of Dover. The Germans had hit it so hard with E-Boats and from the air that several ships were reported sinking. In consequence, the Royal Navy had sent two destroyers, Boreas and Brilliant, sallying forth from Dover to the rescue of the convoy. Just minutes later, the RN liaison officer reported that both destroyers had been so heavily damaged that they were being withdrawn. The Navy could not afford to lose any more destroyers. The Atlantic lifeline was practically undefended as it was. The remnants of this convoy were being sacrificed to what appeared to be the entire Stuka force of the German Luftwaffe, while still trapped in the narrowest part of the Channel.
Bridges felt not only helpless but chilled. They had put up the best defence they could – and it had proved inadequate. Furthermore, reconnaissance showed that the Germans were now installing heavy long-range guns at Calais that would be able to reach Dover itself. Guns like that would close the Straits altogether and make it unsafe even for the Navy. If the Royal Navy was no longer safe in the Channel, how could one consider it an English waterway? And if the Germans controlled the Straits of Dover, then they became a highway for invasion.
Napoleon, Bridges reflected, had been stopped in his tracks by the Royal Navy alone, but now the combined might of the German dictator’s Navy and Air Force had tipped the scales in favour of the enemy. The Navy and RAF Fighter Command just weren’t strong enough to stop the Wehrmacht. Bridges’ morose thoughts were interrupted by the sound of returning aircraft, and he forced himself to focus again on the immediate job.
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