British preparations against invasion in 1940 have become, it is fair to say, a bit of an obsession of mine. Lucky me then that in October 2019 I had the chance to visit the UK's National Archives at Kew in London and get my hands on the original files for Operation BANQUET.
If you've heard of this operation before, you have my admiration! It seems generally not well known that preparations were made to activate almost every aircraft and pilot in the country for the cause of national defence. There were numerous plans as part of this effort, known collectively as Operation BANQUET.
The general idea was straightforward, if perhaps a little desperate as a practical military strategy. Activating various echelons dependent upon the situation, the BANQUET plan would call on Bomber Command, Training Command, auxiliary units and even civilian organisations to field their aircraft against German invasion forces.
The inventory of aircraft and the proposals for their use is, frankly, staggering. I shall return to BANQUET several times in this journal but for the purposes of introducing the content of the plan let's focus on what was known as BANQUET LIGHT.
BANQUET LIGHT concerned the assignment of aircraft of the Elementary Flying Training Schools to Army Co-operation units in the event of invasion. So what sort of help could BANQUET LIGHT aircraft have provided?
We see here that BANQUET LIGHT concerns training types, namely 'MOTHS and MAGISTERS'.
For those unfamiliar with the de Havilland Tiger Moth and the Miles Magister, the former is a biplane first flown in 1931 while the latter was the RAF's first monoplane training aircraft.
A Miles M14 Magister
BANQUET LIGHT called for the use of these aircraft in the dive bombing and level bombing roles, employed against 'enemy troops attempting a landing'. This is the image that is, to me, incredible to imagine.
Picture if you will the M14 Magister with perhaps a single 250 lb General Purpose (GP) bomb installed on a centreline rack, hastily rigged to meet the BANQUET requirements. Now imagine getting airborne; your first hope is probably that the bomb doesn't fall from its jury-rigged spot during the take-off roll, ending your sortie before it begins.
Then you turn and climb toward the landing grounds, where your job is to dive-bomb (or level bomb) enemy assault craft as they are landing their troops. You have no dive brakes, no pull-out system and no reticle in the fuselage for dive-bombing, no bomb sight for level bombing and no defensive armament such as the Luftwaffe's Ju-87 Stuka is carrying.
If the invasion is happening, it's a fair bet that the airspace over the beaches is contested, so whether you are screaming toward the target or bombing from altitude, you are presumably receiving the attentions of Me-109s and Me-110s while evading your own anti-aircraft batteries and a host of other threats. All this in an open-cockpit monoplane designed only to teach students the handling characteristics of 'modern' fighters. Perhaps you feel better knowing that your mates are doing this all with Tiger Moths!
I'll be posting more from Operation BANQUET, including further excerpts from my original research of primary sources, as we mark this 80th anniversary year of the Battle of Britain.