Group 10, Fighter Command, defended the southwest of England during the Battle of Britain. When required, Group 10 supported Group 11, Fighter Command, during the battle with a system of squadron rotation or by providing Group 11 with more pilots.
Group 10 was formed in April 1918. In 1919, the group was moved to the southwest where its primary role was to defend the coast. Group 10 was disbanded in 1932; the European situation seemed tolerably stable as Hitler had yet to get power, Mussolini was not seen as a threat and Stalin’s air force was too far east to be a concern. The group was only reinstated on June 1st 1940 once France had fallen and in Churchill’s word “the Battle of Britain is about to begin”. It became operational on June 12th – the first entry into the Operations Record Book kept at Middle Wallop, the first of the sector stations to open.
Group 10 was put under the command of Air Vice-Marshal Sir Christopher Brand with its headquarters at Rudloe Manor at Box, Wiltshire.
Group 10 had a number of sector stations. These were at Middle Wallop, Filton, Pembrey and St. Eval. The nearest to Group 11 was at Middle Wallop (commanded during the battle by Wing Commander David Roberts). Group Captain Robert Hanmer commanded Filton, near Bristol during the battle. Wing Commander J H Hutchinson commanded Pembrey (in South Wales) during the battle. St. Eval in Cornwall was commanded by Group Captain L G le B Croke.
Group 10 had a number of forward satellite bases. An airfield at Warmwell near Weymouth served Middle Wallop. Exeter served as a satellite base for Filton.
While supporting Group 11 was a major role for Group 10, one sector station had its own specific role to fulfil. Filton, home to 87 and 213 squadrons, was tasked to defend the Bristol Aircraft and Engine Companies factories in and around the city.
Within the geographic boundary of Group 10 was Roborough airfield, just to the north of Plymouth. The Gladiator bi-planes based here were tasked with defending the naval dockyard at Devonport, Plymouth.
With Group 11 effectively concentrating its resources on enemy aircraft coming over the coastline at Kent and Sussex, Group 10 dealt with Luftwaffe aircraft that flew further west. The docks and factories in and around Southampton and Portsmouth were inviting targets for the Luftwaffe. Group 10 had its first major contact with the Luftwaffe on August 8th 1940 off the Isle of Wight when a convoy was attacked. Pilots from squadrons attached to Group 10 claimed seven confirmed kills (five Me-110’s and two Ju-87’s) in this engagement with four unconfirmed. Two pilots from Group 10 were killed.
August was an especially busy month for Group 10. Middle Wallop was attacked for the first time on August 13th. Some damage was done by not enough to put the airfield out of action. Also during the day, aircraft from Middle Wallop used Warmwell as a base so the damage done to Middle Wallop was mainly to the buildings there as opposed to aircraft. The attacking German force suffered badly as the Ju-87’s (Stukas) had no fighter cover as a Me-109 escort had to return to France as a result of lack of fuel. Eighteen Luftwaffe aircraft were confirmed destroyed in this raid alone.
On the following day, a much larger Luftwaffe force attacked Middle Wallop. The attacking aircraft included the much larger He-III’s along with Ju-88’s. However, the attack floundered with only one Ju-88 reaching Middle Wallop and only four bombs hitting their targets. Six people on the ground were killed but the Luftwaffe suffered more heavy casualties.
A raid on August 15th was equally successful for Group 10 with thirteen confirmed kills and six ‘probable’ for the loss of one pilots killed and two missing for Group 10.
On August 16th, the Luftwaffe changed its tactics and attacked coastal targets. On this day Flight Lieutenant James Nicolson was about to attack some Ju-88’s he had observed. He was, in turn, attacked by a number of Me-109’s and hit. Despite flying a Hurricane that was on fire, Nicolson pressed home his attack on the Ju-88’s before bailing out. The dangers faced by men from Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain were huge. Sometimes they came from an unexpected direction. As Nicolson descended he was shot at by the Home Guard. A fellow pilot had also bailed out during the aerial skirmish. However, Pilot Officer Martyn King was not so lucky and was killed. Nicolson was later awarded a Victoria Cross for his bravery during this dogfight. His citation read:
“The King has been graciously pleased to confer the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery :
Flight Lieutenant James Brindley Nicolson (39329) — No. 249 Squadron.
During an engagement with the enemy near Southampton on 16th August, 1940, Flight Lieutenant Nicolson’s aircraft was hit by four cannon shells, two of which wounded him whilst another set fire to the gravity tank. When about to abandon his aircraft owing to flames in the cockpit he sighted an enemy fighter. This he attacked and shot down, although as a result of staying in his burning aircraft he sustained serious burns to his hands, face, neck and legs. Flight Lieutenant Nicolson has always displayed great enthusiasm for air fighting and this incident shows that he possesses courage and determination of a high order. By continuing to engage the enemy after he had been wounded and his aircraft set on fire, he displayed exceptional gallantry and disregard for the safety of his own life.”
Flight Lieutenant Nicolson was the only pilot in Fighter Command to receive the VC during the Battle of Britain.
After the Battle of Britain, squadrons from Group 10 continued to patrol the south coast and to defend vital factory complexes in Southampton, Bristol and Plymouth. The protection of the naval bases at Devonport and Portsmouth remained a key priority. From 1943, all Group 10’s airbases were used in the preparation for D-Day. Middle Wallop was effectively taken over by the USAAF in 1943 and only returned to Fighter Command in April 1946. Warmwell was designated a USAAF base in March 1944 as was Exeter in April 1944.