Group 12, Fighter Command, was based in East Anglia and Lincolnshire. It was the most dispersed of the fighter groups in the Battle of Britain. Group 12 played an important role in the Battle of Britain supporting Group 11, Fighter Command. Group 12 also had a decisive role in defending London during the Blitz.
Group 12’s headquarters was at Watnall, near Nottingham, and during the Battle of Britain it was commanded by Air Vice-Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory.
Group 12’s main airbase was at Duxford, Cambridgeshire. Duxford was also Group 12’s most southerly airbase. Other important sector airfields bases for Group 12 were at Church Fenton, Fowlmere, Coltishall (near Norwich), Wittering (near Stamford), Digby (near Lincoln) and Kirton-in-Lindsey (near Lincoln).
On August 4th 1938 the first Spitfire was delivered to 19 Squadron based at Duxford. By the end of 1938 19 Squadron was fully equipped as was 66 Squadron, which was also based at Duxford. Both 19 and 66 Squadrons had advanced airbases nearer the coast to facilitate extra flying time over the North Sea. At the start of World War Two, the main priority of 12 Group was convoy protection patrols.
During the Dunkirk evacuation 19 Squadron gave air support to the Royal Navy and to the men trapped on the beach.
Pilots from Duxford came into their own in the so-called ‘third phase’ of the Battle of Britain – when the Luftwaffe specifically targeted the main airfields of Group11. On August 30th, North Weald airbase was attacked and pilots from 242 Squadron, 12 Group, flew to support the base. They shot down twelve German aircraft and lost none of their own.
Probably the most famous pilot in 12 Group was Douglas Bader. By the end of August he was the commanding officer of 242 Squadron. Bader is associated with many things that led to him making his mark on history. One of these was his belief in the ‘Big Wing’ – a large attack by as many aircraft from Group 12 as could be mustered for an attack on incoming Luftwaffe aircraft. However, the ‘Big Wing’ theory had one major fault – it took too long to assemble before an attack was executed. While aircraft were waiting for others to arrive within the ‘Big Wing’, those already in the formation burned valuable fuel, which meant that they had less time in combat with the Luftwaffe.