The Battle of Barking Creek was technically the first air battle of World War II. It all happened on 6 September 1939, just three days into the war. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had not even taken their positions in France and Belgium. They would not be engaged by the German Wehrmacht until 10th may, 1940. Dunkirk was almost a year away.
A report came through to RAF Fighter Command that unidentified aircraft had been seen flying over the Essex coast, just north of London. Six Hurricanes were scrambled from 56 Squadron nearby. Two Pilot Officers, eager to be in the fray, jumped into two reserve aircraft and also joined the Hurricanes. Hurricanes from 151 Squadron, and three Squadrons of Spitfires were also scrambled.
Now, let’s take a moment here and look at the larger picture. This happened three days after declaring war on Germany. It was the first ‘action’ that anyone had seen. We had eager pilots, little training, no dog-fighting experience, and very primitive communications. We also had a bunch of pilots who wouldn't recognize a German aircraft if there had been pictures of Hitler on the wings! Everyone expected to see enemy aircraft, but had little training in recognition.
Enter the two Pilot Officers and their ‘reserve’ aircraft with no comms, flying around, looking for the rest of 151 Squadron.
Oh, and the original report of aircraft over Essex? It turned out to be a false alarm.