Operation Banquet

de Havilland Tiger Moth
RAF Tiger Moth at RAF Cosford

In addition to the Tiger Moth’s principal use for initial training, the Second World War had RAF Tiger Moths operating in some other capacities and roles. These roles included maritime surveillance and defensive anti-invasion preparations; some aircraft were even outfitted to function as armed light bombers.

This got me thinking about how the RAF might have used Tiger Moths during a successful Operation Sealion. The usual factor for a successful invasion of England by Germany in 1940 was the destruction of the RAF during the Battle of Britain. Of course there are all the naval challenges as well in crossing the channel, but for the sake of argument, let’s say that they were resolved. So would the RAF use them in the defensive anti-invasion role?

Then I did some research and found that the Air Ministry back in 1940 had similar thinking and came up with Operation Banquet.

Operation Banquet was a British Second World War plan to use every available aircraft against the planned German invasion in 1940, the German code name was Operation Sealion.

Operation Banquet was planned, as after the Fall of France in June 1940. The British Government needed to make urgent anti-invasion preparations, as the Royal Air Force engaged the German Luftwaffe in a struggle for air superiority in the Battle of Britain. This included building defences, bunkers, setting up auxiliary units and training the Home Guard.

At the time the threat of invasion was very real and having lost a significant amount of military hardware in the fall of France, the British military were rightly concerned about defending the country against a German invasion. A successful German invasion was dependent on destroying much of the RAF capability, hence the , by the British, to utilise all available aircraft in the event of German troops landing on the beaches on the South coast.

In May 1940, the Air Ministry had started to realise that beyond the normal fighter aircraft reserves of the RAF, it may be necessary to throw every serviceable aircraft into the battle. On 17 May, an Air Ministry meeting outlined ambitious plans to make use of various aircraft in the event of an invasion. This would include transport and training aircraft. Early in July 1940, about 1,000 aircraft, from Tiger Moths to Wellington bombers, at training schools, were ready for anti-invasion operations, with hope of another 1,000 aircraft when the scheme was complete.

Among 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 Elementary Flying Training Schools. De Havilland put forward plans for converting the Tiger Moth into a bomber by equipping it with eight 20lb bomb racks beneath the rear cockpit. The Banquet Light strike force would be used for Army co-operation, bombing concentrations of airborne troops or soldiers landing on the beaches. If the Germans had adequate air defences, then the plan wouldn’t work, but the thinking was that in the confusion of an amphibious landing they would not have the time or the capability to set up effective air defences.

The use of slow aircraft for ground attack operations was not new and not without precedent, Netherlands Fokker C.Xs, German Henschel Hs 123 and British Hawker Hector biplanes had operated on the continent without unsustainable losses; against advanced troops without time to establish adequate air defences. Slow, highly manoeuvrable aircraft could make accurate ground attacks and escape destruction. This would be a military need in the event of Operation Sealion.

This could make for some interesting scenarios and games.