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Operation Banquet
DH 82A Tiger Moth - N81DH.jpg
de Havilland DH 82A Tiger Moth, N81DH
Planned 1940–1941
Planned by  United Kingdom
Objective Defence of Britain against German invasion
Executed by Royal Air Force
Outcome Cancelled

Operation Banquet was a British plan to use every available aircraft in a last-ditch effort to repel a threatened German invasion in 1940 or 1941. During the Second World War, in May 1940, the Air Ministry realised that beyond the normal reserves of the Royal Air Force (RAF), it may be necessary to throw everything into a last-ditch battle for British liberty. To this end, the Air Ministry planned to use just about anything that could fly. On 17 May 1940, an Air Ministry meeting outlined a series of ambitious plans to make use of various aircraft in the event of an invasion.[1][2][3]

With the Fall of France in July 1940, the Germans threatened to invade Britain. The British Government made urgent efforts to prepare to meet the threatened invasion and the RAF engaged the German Luftwaffe in a struggle for air superiority over Britain, in what became known as the Battle of Britain.

Plan[edit | edit source]

On 13 July 1940, the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Training Command was ordered to plan to make the maximum practical number of aircraft available for operations.[3] The overall plan was known as Operation Banquet and was divided into a number of separate operations that could be enacted independently. Banquet 6 Group would see the absorption of No 6 Group units (the Group Pool units, not the later Royal Canadian Air Force) into the operational striking force of RAF Bomber Command. Banquet 22 Group would move certain 22 group (Army Cooperation) aircraft into the operational striking force of Bomber Command. Striking more of a note of desperation were Banquet Alert which called for the employment of Fleet Air Arm training aircraft under Coastal Command and Banquet Training which called for the absorption of aircraft from Training Command into the operational striking force of Bomber Command.[3]

Aircraft allocated under Banquet would, in many cases, lack bombsights, armour for the protection of the crew, defensive guns and self-sealing fuel tanks. While these were to be fitted where possible, RAF instructions were very clear that no aircraft was to be considered unfit for want of such niceties. Anything that could fly and drop bombs would suffice.[3] Ground service crews would go with their aircraft and in some cases this would have involved civilian volunteers.[4] The air crew for Banquet Alert and Training would be the experienced instructors as well as those students that had reached "a reasonably satisfactory standard of training".[3]

Banquet Light[edit | edit source]

The most ominous of the Banquet plans was Banquet Light which would see the formation of striking forces composed of De Havilland Tiger Moth biplanes and other light aircraft of the Elementary Flight Training School.[3] De Havilland put forward plans for converting the Tiger Moth into a bomber by equipping it with eight under-fuselage racks beneath the rear cockpit, each able to carry a 20-pound (9 kg) bomb. As an alternative, the bomb-racks could be installed four on each side beneath the lower wings, this obviated trimming difficulties.[2] The racks had been designed for the military version of the Dragons supplied to Iraq eight years previously. Trials were conducted at Hatfield by Major Hereward de Havilland and at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down, the machines earned a perfectly satisfactory report.[2] Tests were also carried out with a Tiger Moth carrying a single 240-pound (109 kg) bomb.[2] Modification of the relatively small number of Magister trainers were also attempted, but this proved troublesome, therefore Banquet Light mostly used Tiger Moths.[3]

The Banquet Light strike force would be employed in an Army cooperation role, which would likely mean being sent to bomb concentrations of airborne troops or soldiers landing on the beaches.[2] The intention was that the two-seater Tiger Moth bombers should be flown solo into an attack[2] at low altitude until the enemy was identified and then climb to 800 feet (240 m) and dive to 500 feet (150 m) to release the bombs.[5][6]

Most of the pilots for Banquet Light would be students who had not yet graduated.[3] The scheme required that trainee pilots were introduced to bombing at an early stage in their instruction – just in case they needed to go into action immediately. Instructors were told to "take every opportunity to carry out practice bombing."[3] However, with no dummy bombs available early in 1940, training exercises were carried out with the aircraft flown from the front cockpit by instructors and house bricks were thrown over the side from the rear cockpit. It was discovered that the bricks fell faster than a diving Tiger Moth and instructions were given to throw the bricks forcibly away from the aircraft.[5][6]

About 350 aircraft were available. This was not an insignificant force, but the Moths and their inexperienced pilots would have been very vulnerable to enemy aircraft[7] and the plan was widely regarded as virtually suicidal.[4] Consideration was also given to adapting civilian aircraft for Banquet Civil. However, the plan was not thought worthwhile and the idea was dropped.[3][8]

Cancellation[edit | edit source]

Operation Banquet was never put into effect in the way that was originally intended. Banquet was periodically exercised under various guises and one such "exercise" provided secret cover for the temporary reorganisation needed for the first 1,000 bomber raid sent against the city of Cologne on the night of 30/31 May 1942. This plan required considerable reorganisation including the contribution of bombers from Coastal Command and Training Command.[9] Plan Banquet was cancelled in October 1943 having never been put into effect.[7]

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  • Cox, Richard (1975). Operation Sea Lion. Thornton Cox. ISBN 0-902726-17-X. 
  • Johnson, Derek E (1992). East Anglia at War 1939–1945. Jarrold Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7117-0598-2. 
  • Lewis, Peter (1980). The British Bomber Since 1914: Sixty-five Years of Design and Development. Putnam. ISBN 978-0-370-30265-2. 
  • Messenger, Charles (1984). "Bomber" Harris and the Strategic Bombing Offensive, 1939–45. Arms & Armour Press. ISBN 978-0-85368-677-4. 

External links[edit | edit source]

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