Sie sind auf Seite 1von 16
September 2010 The Battle of Britain 70 t h Anniversary Commemorative Special Edition Nazi Germany’s

September 2010

The Battle of Britain 70 th Anniversary

Commemorative Special Edition

Nazi Germany’s first major defeat

Analysed and celebrated by David Todd

© 2010 All Rights Reserved

Battle of Britain 70 t h Anniversary Commemorative Special Edition September 2010 The Battle of

Battle of Britain 70 th Anniversary

Commemorative Special Edition

September 2010

The Battle of Britain 70 th Anniversary

Nazi Germany’s first major defeat

Seventy years ago in the summer of 1940, thousands of gallant men fought and died in the skies above England. The battle was a true change in the fortunes of war. Without the ‘few’ – those Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots who fought so hard, Britain would probably have lost the war and the world may have succumbed to Nazi domination.

In the Battle of Britain, both the German Luftwaffe and the RAF had excellent and poor aircraft types. Both sides had both excellent and poor strategies and tactics. Both sides made large and small mistakes. So how exactly did the RAF win?

David Todd analyses and celebrates this battle and explains the twists and turns of fortune that may have changed the result of World War II.

of fortune that may have changed the result of World War II. Early days of the

Early days of the battle: Pilots of No. 610 Squadron at Hawkinge on July 29th 1940. Courtesy:

Front Cover: The Battle of Britain continues to inspire artists and film makers. This image by Roy Nockold also shows the vapour trails against the blue sky that many spectators on the ground saw during the battle. Courtesy: RAF Museum

Battle of Britain 70 th Anniversary

Commemorative Special Edition

September 2010

Nazi Germany, seemingly invincible after the Blitzkrieg across Europe, arrived at the channel which they would havetocrossfortheinvasionofBritain.Anyseacrossing would be opposed by the warships of the Royal Navy and by bomber and strafing fighter aircraft of the Royal Air Force (RAF).

In other words, for the successful invasion of Britain, the RAF and especially its Fighter Command would have to be neutralised by the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) so that air superiority could be guaranteed over Southern England. This would then allow Luftwaffe bombers to effectively attack the Royal Navy, holding them off the barges and other ships loaded with men and equipment while they made the short but hazardous crossing. In fact, Hitler had long wanted Britain to sue for peace and hoped that a Luftwaffe victory would make such an invasion unnecessary.

Up to July 1940, the RAF had not had a good war. Many of its daylight bombing raids had exposed Bomber Command’s ‘modern’ aircraft and fighting techniques as being poor and outdated. The RAF Advanced Air Striking Force Hurricane squadrons in France had fought valiantly but in the end events on the ground overtook them. RAF squadrons of Spitfires were involved in fierce fighting over Dunkirk while covering the British Expeditionary Force evacuation, despite being branded ‘Royal Absent Force’ by the evacuating army soldiers. The fierce air fighting occurredfurtherinlandandwasnotseenoverthebeaches.

Fall back to England but radar was in place

DespiteitsreversalsanditswithdrawalfromFrance,Britain still had the excellent Fighter Command to fall back on. During the late thirties, the command had been built up by its visionary architect Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding. It offered a new state of the art in organised interception, communications and ground control.

At the system’s sharp end were two modern monoplane fighters, the Hurricane and the Spitfire, each with eight machine guns pumping out hundreds of rounds per second.

The new revolutionary ‘chain home’ radar stations (then called RDF – Radio Direction Finding) allowed fighter command to see enemy formations over the sea as operators could interpret bearing and height information from cathode ray ‘spikes’.

A radar operator interpretsthespikes. Courtesy:

interpretsthespikes. Courtesy: Dornier Do 17 aircraft in formation. Raids during the Battle
interpretsthespikes. Courtesy: Dornier Do 17 aircraft in formation. Raids during the Battle

Dornier Do 17 aircraft in formation. Raids during the Battle of Britain could consist of hundreds of bomber and fighter aircraft. Courtesy:

Battle of Britain 70 th Anniversary

Commemorative Special Edition

September 2010

Meanwhile,binocularand rangefinderequipped Observer Corps gave effective early warning via secure telephone communicationsoverlandtotheirowncontrolroomwhich, in turn, gave their data to Fighter command. Each raid’s type and numbers, height and bearing, information was sorted by integrated control rooms and displayed as tracked markers on map tables.

rooms and displayed as tracked markers on map tables. While radar overlooked the sea, inland it

While radar overlooked the sea, inland it was upto the Observer Corps men to take size, altitude and direction readings of a raid. Courtesy:

Controllers at Group Headquarters looking downonthese could then efficiently direct the fighter squadrons to exactly when and where they were needed. Each sector station (e.g Biggin Hill, Kenley, Northholt or Tangmere etc) usually took its orders from the main control room at group headquarters. This was RAF Uxbridge for No 11 Group which was in charge of the South East. They would be given an enemy formation to intercept and it was up to them to order each of their squadrons to the correct direction (‘vector’) and make the right flight level (‘angels’ number).

and make the right flight level (‘angels’ number). PlottersatRAFUxbridgetrackaraidinthecontrolroom. Courtesy:

PlottersatRAFUxbridgetrackaraidinthecontrolroom. Courtesy:

It was not just in this brilliant system that Britain excelled.

In 1940, as the result of some clever foresight, Britain was

now out-producing Germany in single seat fighter aircraft


system for damaged aircraft. This, perhaps surprising, productivity superiority was due to the leadership of the red-tape cutting Lord Beaverbrook. It was to prove crucial

in Germany’s misunderstanding the nature of the battle.

The Luftwaffe analysts measured their progress on estimatesofremainingfightersbutinfacttheirfundamental assumptions were wrong.

Similarly, while the Luftwaffe easily outnumbered the RAF

in bomber and other types of aircraft, both sides actually

began the battle with approximately the same number of

single engine fighters.

approximately the same number of single engine fighters. 603 Squadron Spitfires patrol the sky in June

603 Squadron Spitfires patrol the sky in June 1940.

However the RAF was usually outnumbered in the main

battle area because its other fighters were protecting the whole British Isles and not just the South East where most oftheactiontookplace.Meanwhile,mostoftheLuftwaffe’s fighters were based in Gruppen 2 and 3 flying from fields

in France and the Low Countries and so usually had a

local numerical superiority over Southern England.

The Aircraft – Messerschmitts, Dornier, Heinkel and Junkers

The main fighter types of the Luftwaffe were the single


and the Messerschmitt Me110 twin engine ‘destroyer’ fighter. The former was an excellent aircraft with an armament of two 20mm cannon in each wing and with


of the pilot firing though the propeller.

A few also had a third cannon firing through the hub.

Despite being relatively slow firing and having limited

Battle of Britain 70 th Anniversary

Commemorative Special Edition

September 2010

ammunition (60 shells per gun lasting only 6 seconds) cannon was more lethal to aircraft than its machine guns (50 seconds of ammo). One or two exploding cannon shells could bring down a fighter and it is accepted that had the RAF had cannon armed fighters then their kill rate would have been substantially higher. Unfortunately attempts at fitting cannon to Spitfires failed due to unreliability reasons but later in the war they were fitted successfully to Spitfires and Hurricanes.

they were fitted successfully to Spitfires and Hurricanes. A ‘schwarm’ of four Messerschmitt Me109s (Bf109s) means

A ‘schwarm’ of four Messerschmitt Me109s (Bf109s) means business Courtesy:

Many of the German fighters and bombers used armour plating and self sealing fuel tanks allowing them to reach home despite being shot up with hundreds of bullets and some RAF pilots advocated just ‘crippling’ aircraft. They argued that the effect of seeing wounded crews in shot upreturningaircraftwoulddomoretoinjureenemymorale (Ref. 2)

The 348mph Me109 was just about as fast as a Spitfire


Usually painted with a distinctive yellow or white nose, it could out climb and out dive both British designs and had a higher altitude ceiling (34,500ft). However it could be outturned by both – especially at the sub-20,000 feet altitudes flown by the Luftwaffe bomber aircraft during most of the battle.

The principle drawback of the Me109 was range: it had enough fuel for barely 10 minutes over London. It was a key oversight by the Luftwaffe to not have perfected drop tank technology in time for the battle.

Given that the Me109 was marginally less manoeuverable than the British fighters, the favorite attack philosophy of the ‘experten’ hunters was to attack quickly from height, preferably from ‘out of the sun’, before swooping back up out of range.

‘Beware the Hun in the Sun’ was a saying that became as relevant to British pilots in World War Two as it had been to those fighting in World War One.

The other fighter in the Luftwaffe stable was the 336mph Messerschmitt Me110. It was a twin engine two-seat ‘destroyer’ fighter. It was fast and carried a heavy and

deadly armament (four 7.92 mm machine guns and two 20mm cannon) in its nose as well as a rearward firing defensive machine gun. It also had an excellent range. However,itwasa ‘turkey’ina turningfight,andsquadrons of these aircraft were often forced to adopt a ‘defensive circle’ when attacked with each aircraft covering the one in front. Despite these tactics, they were shot down in such great numbers that this ‘fighter’ type had itself to be escorted by the single engine Me109 fighters.

itself to be escorted by the single engine Me109 fighters. MesserschmittMe110‘Zerstorer’isexaminedafterbeing shot


shot down on 18th August 1940 over Kenley. Courtesy:

1940 over Kenley. Courtesy: A Junkers Ju 87 Stuka divebomber appears to make a typical

A Junkers Ju 87 Stuka divebomber appears to make a typical diving attack near Chichester, Sussex. Actually, this dive was a fatal one as the aircraft had just been shot down. Courtesy:

The German bomber aircraft consisted mainly of twin engined medium types, although one exception to this was the Junkers Ju87B, more commonly known by its ‘Stuka’ name. This highly accurate two-seat single engine crank wing dive-bomber was fitted with a siren to terrify its victims during the dive. It carried a pair of machine guns in the wings and had, like the Me110, a rearward

firingdefensivemachinegunner.Themachinehadworked well during the Blitzkrieg across Europe but was too slow to cope in an environment in which air superiority was not secure.

They were shot to pieces in August 1940 during their raids on radar installations and RAF aerodromes and they were soon removed from the battle.

TheLuftwaffe’smedium-bombertwinenginetypescarried a relatively small bomb load and did not have ‘powered’ gunturretsrelyinginsteadonseveralhandoperatedsingle 7.9mm machine guns and occasionally 20mm automatic cannon to do their defending. The three types employed were the Heinkel He111 (G & H), the Dornier Do17 (Z) and the Junkers Ju88 (A-1).

& H), the Dornier Do17 (Z) and the Junkers Ju88 (A-1). A view of the Luftwaffe

A view of the Luftwaffe Junkers Ju88 from below as was often the view that the still climbing RAF fighters had. Courtesy:

The latter type was probably the finest German bomber of the war, having a fast speed (290mph) and being very adaptable. It was reputably difficult to fly on one engine. The similar looking but older Dornier Do 17 was slower (270mph), but was very damage resistant with a proven ‘get the crew home’ capability. The Heinkel 111, despite its modern streamlined looks, was showing its age by 1940, having already won its battle spurs in the skies of the Spanish Civil War. While it was slow (227mph), it did carry a respectable bomb load.

it was slow (227mph), it did carry a respectable bomb load. Dornier Do 17 (and similar

Dornier Do 17 (and similar Do215) was one of the main bomber types of the Luftwaffe. Courtesy:

Battle of Britain 70 th Anniversary

Commemorative Special Edition

September 2010

The Aircraft – British ones from Hawker, Supermarine and Boulton-Paul

It was not just the Luftwaffe that had ‘turkey’ types flying. The Boulton-Paul Defiant which superficially looked like

a Hawker Hurricane, was in fact a two man fighter aircraft

with a rear powered turret with four .303 inch machine guns. Apart from some success as the result of its misidentification as the single seat Hurricane, the Defiant

was eventually badly mauled in the battle once German pilots learned to recognize it and attack it from below.

Despite the fact that the glamour fighter of 1940 was the Spitfire and that the summer of that year became known as ‘Spitfire Summer’, it was in fact the Hurricane that bore the brunt of the fighting. Two thirds of the RAF single engine types flying inthe Battle of Britainwere Hurricanes, and the largest proportion of enemy aircraft shot down were due to this type. Designed by Sir Sydney Camm, it was the RAF’s first modern monoplane fighter.

It was about 30mph slower than a Spitfire oe Me109 but

could out turn virtually all fighters of the time and proved to be an excellent gun platform with its eight .303inch (7.7mm) machine guns. With eight guns firing and with 15 seconds of ammo, the chance of a hit was high but their bullets lacked the ‘killer punch’ of explosive filled cannon shells which the German fighters carried. The Hurricane’s structure did not use the modern stressed skin monocoque like the Spitfire but instead used an internal frame which was fabric and wood covered. This old fashioned design was, in fact, a blessing as it made the aircraft very rugged and repairable and many battle damaged examples made it back to base.

and many battle damaged examples made it back to base. Modern image of the Hawker Hurricane

Modern image of the Hawker Hurricane aircraft. It was not as glamorous or as elegant as the Spitfire but it was an effective aircraft killer and it equipped two thirds of fighter command. Courtesy:

‘Achtung! Achtung! Spitfuer! Which was shouted by bomber crews over the airwaves and intercomms was usually an incorrect identification as in reality as it was

Battle of Britain 70 th Anniversary

Commemorative Special Edition

September 2010

more likely to be Hurricanes that were attacking. Fighter Command tasked the slower Hurricanes with going for the bombers while the higher performing Spitfires were usually sent to intercept the Luftwaffe fighters, although, in reality, both types fought the German bombers and fighters. Most captured German aircrew insisted that it was a Spitfire that had shot them down. This ‘Spitfire snobbery’ was resented by some Hurricane pilots.

The Vickers-Supermarine Spitfire was designed by R. J. Mitchell, famed for his Schneider Cup winning sea-plane designs. Like the Hurricane, it was powered by the Rolls RoyceMerlinengineandagaincarriedeightmachineguns in its famous elliptical thin wings. Again, while reasonably effective against fighter aircraft, these machine guns were less successful on bombers with self sealing fuel tanks. That said, despite their inability to deliver the structural ‘knockout’ that a rapid firing cannon could, their armour piercing and incendiary bullets were often able to set such large aircraft alight. The Spitfire aircraft was slightly faster than the Messerschmitt Me109 which, crucially, it could also out turn. The Spitfire also had a much better view from its bubble canopy than the Me109 and mostly better than the Hurricane.

canopy than the Me109 and mostly better than the Hurricane. Modern photo of Mk II Supermaine

Modern photo of Mk II Supermaine Spitfire. The Mk I & II both took part in the battle. Courtesy:

One flaw that it shared with the Hawker Hurricane was as the result of the Merlin using carburetors instead of direct fuel injection. The engine would cough and splutter during rapid dives as it came under negative ‘g’. The Me109 did not have this problem as its Daimler Benz engine used direct fuel injection and its pilots often used the dive as its favourite evasion technique. A half roll could maintain positive ‘g’ for Spitfires and Hurricanes but any split second delay could give the German fighter a chance to get away. The Me109 also had a better maximum altitude that the Spitfire due to its injected engine though the Spitfire climbed better above 20,000 feet. At height the Me109 was faster however.

While the rugged Hurricane was the real hero of the battle intermsofnumbersof‘kills’,itwasthebetterperformance and lower profile of the elegant Spitfire that meant it had better chance of surviving contact with an enemy fighter.

In other words, it was probably just the better fighter of the early war years – though German Me109 pilots would probably differ on this opinion. That was, until the Focke Wulf 190 turned up after the Battle of Britain in 1941. Nevertheless,Spitfiredesignwassogoodthatitsupgraded variants remained competitive until the end of the war.

Avoid bad tactics:

Stay loose to avoid being shot down

As already described, the preferred attack for the Me109 pilot was a fast and deadly strike on the first pass, to avoid dogfights which were advantageous to the Hurricane and Spitfire. The RAF fighters, given the limited time they had after scrambling were usually at a tactical disadvantage in joining battle. As supposedly the hunting interceptors,


climb as Me109s dived on them at 400mph. Some scrambled RAF squadrons deliberately turned the wrong way from its ordered vector direction just in order to gain valuable height advantage before battle.

The most dire weakness for the RAF was not pilot quality (although this suffered as casualties started to eat into the experienced crew), nor was it aircraft quality as it had two superb fighters. Its real failure was tactics in the air – or more specifically formations.

The RAF sent its squadrons into battle in sections of three aircraft flying close V shaped ‘Vic’ formations. These sections were then multiplied up according to the number of aircraft flying. Thus, a squadron of 12 aircraft might be flying in four closely flying vic sections. The pilots were colour coded e.g. red one, red two, red three, blue one, blue two etc.

Battle of Britain 70 th Anniversary

Commemorative Special Edition

September 2010

Whenattackingformationsofbombers(whichthemselves usually flew close flying vics), each section would split away, move into a line astern ‘queue’ and attack one or other bomber in a part of the formation. Given the small calibre of their .303 inch machine guns, having several attacksanindividualbomberwasoftennecessarytoshoot

it down. As such these sections may have been good. Shared ‘kills’ were common.

While flying in large formations was theoretically a good thingforprotection,RAFproceduresmeantthattheaircraft travelled to the battle in too close a formation, such that aircrew spent most of their time looking at each others

aircraft, trying to avoid collision which did not allow pilots

to look for the enemy. Thus, German fighters could attack

almost unseen.

the enemy. Thus, German fighters could attack almost unseen. Both sides’ pilots tried to play to

Both sides’ pilots tried to play to their different aircraff’s advantages.Courtesy:‘Aircraft’byVisualBooks/Madonald


Evenwhentheywereattacked,suchcloseflyingformations allowed only slow turning manoeuvres such that it was usually too late to turn to face an attack. Some methods to overcome the weakness were tried.

One or two weaving aircraft, known as ‘tail-end Charlies’, were posted at the back of the formation to watch out for theenemy.However,intheendtheseoftenbecame‘easy’ targets themselves and when attacked, their colleagues

in the formation could do little to help them.

German fighter pilots, as the result of their experiences in the Spanish civil war, flew in loose formations of usually fouraircraft.TheLuftwaffeflewlooserschwarmformations (roughly the equivalent of a ‘finger four’) which tended to cover for each other. Thus instead of a section of three,

a German flier would have a wing-man, and two pairs

would fly in a finger four formation, about 170m apart. This formation gave the ability to maintain a constant lookout for the enemy and allowed for quick turns as a whole formation when needed.

As already described, most victims of a fighter attack rarely even saw their attacker. As such turning dogfights


whenthey did occurthe RAF fighters usually had the edge as they turned better.

With respect to RAF formations, a squadron of 12 RAF fighters would normally be based on four sets of three aircraft. However by its end RAF fighter squadrons had atleastloosenedupthetightformationssothattheaircraft flewfurtherapart,indoingsotheformationsbecamemore manoeuvrable and harder to attack.

After the battle, the RAF took up the German formation system. During the battle there was no time to rewrite the training manual given that new pilots had difficulty even mastering simple flying.

Use ace tactics:

Get in close to be an effective shooter then get out quick

Many of the tactical lessons of the previous world war still heldtrue.Gettingheightandbeingupsunofyouropponent was usually preferred. Likewise, just as with that conflict, some pilots proved to be better hunters and killers than others.Onlythebestpilotsweregoodatdeflectionshooting as they learned to aim ahead of a crossing target. Another strange quirk was that the RAF fighters originally had all their guns ‘synchronised’ so that their bullets all crossed at 450 yards.

This was too far for really accurate shooting and most pilots going against the rule book reduced this to a more useful 200 yards. Those aces who were brave enough reduced this further to only 50 yards.

who were brave enough reduced this further to only 50 yards. Tracer bullets fly at formation

Tracer bullets fly at formation of Heinkel He111s during September 1940. Their tracks show the importance of aiming ahead of a crossing target. Courtesy: Crown Copywrite

Battle of Britain 70 th Anniversary

Commemorative Special Edition

September 2010

Anniversary Commemorative Special Edition September 2010 This post war celebratory stamp showing a spitfire coming

This post war celebratory stamp showing a spitfire coming down on a Junkers Ju87 Stuka gives an idea what the shooting range should be to ensure a kill. Courtesy:

‘Big Wing’ formations suggested – buttheyonlyworkediftherewasenoughtime

As already mentioned, one tactic that caused much infighting between Fighter Command’s No 11 group

covering the South-East, and No 12 group supporting them from their bases in the Midlands, was the use of the ‘big wing.’

It was argued by head of No 12 group, Air Vice Marshall Trafford Leigh-Mallory, and by his protégé, the famous tin legged ace Douglas Bader, that more aircraft in several squadrons flying in ‘big wings’ would have the advantage in any air battle.

Air Vice Marshall Keith Park, commanding No 11 group, thought this tactic was impractical for his squadrons on the grounds that they simply did not have the time to scramble en-masse and intercept before a raid had done its worst and gone home. It was only during a post battle war-game re-run that it was seen that ‘big wings’ could not have worked for No 11 group.

Even No 12 group had trouble forming up in time and several times Park complained to Dowding that No 11’s airfields were not being protected while No 12 Group’s fighters were attempting to form up their ‘big wings’. They failed on to make their assigned interceptions about two


about two thirdsofthetime(Ref.4).ItwasonlywhenLondonbecame Map from Air Ministry account of the Battle of Britain

Map from Air Ministry account of the Battle of Britain (published in 1941) showing the main air stations and satellite airfields involved. Courtesy: RAF via

Battle of Britain 70 th Anniversary

Commemorative Special Edition

September 2010

the target in phase three of the battle that the big wings became really viable. In fact, their contribution was as much psychological as militarily effective.

Hermann got it wrong by ending attacks on RAF airfields and Radar

The Luftwaffe made both tactical and strategic mistakes:

allofthesecausedinpartbyHermannGoering(Commander of the Luftwaffe) and his subordinate Albert Kesselring.

of the Luftwaffe) and his subordinate Albert Kesselring. Hermann Goering (Göring) was proud to wear his

Hermann Goering (Göring) was proud to wear his ‘Blue Max’ as an ex-fighter pilot ace. Courtesy:

The Luftwaffe had never really understood how key the RAF’s radar stations were in terms of their forewarning capability. Thus, while their initial attacks on the radar stations had limited success, the Luftwaffe soon gave up attacking these difficult to hit targets.

Likewise,afterseeingheavylosses,bombercommanders demanded that fighters fly close by. As a Blue Max (Pour Le Merite) decorated fighter ace of the First World War, Hermann Goering probably should have known better but he accepted their demands. If the Luftwaffe fighter force could have been allowed to hunt Spitfires and Hurricanes,

before they could have intercepted the bombers, they would have been more effective. It should be noted here that pure fighter formations of the Luftwaffe were often deliberatelyignoredbyFightercommandwhoweremainly aiming for the bombers. That said, by staying with the bombers,theLuftwaffehuntersbecamepartofthehunted. In addition, by having to weave to stay with the slower bombers, the fighters also used up precious fuel, often to the point where fuel exhaustion meant that some never made it back to their bases across the Channel.

Likewise, at the lower heights that the bombers operated from, the Spitfire and the Hurricane had the advantage. OneofthegreatLuftwaffeacesofthebattle,Adolf‘Dolpho’

Galland (35 Battle of Britain kills) was asked by Goering

if there was anything else he wanted, “I should like an

outfitofSpitfiresformysquadron,”Gallandcheekilyreplied to an angry Goering. Galland knew that the British fighters were better at these flight levels than his side’s Me109s (Ref .2).

The other major error, which was more of a strategic mistake, was to attack London instead of concentrating on their effective attacks on RAF airfields. The airfield strikes in August were slowly grinding down the avail- able aircraft, pilots and airstrips available to the RAF in Southern England.

There is evidence that Hitler ordered the attack on London asrevengeforanRAFraidonBerlin.TheRAFhadattacked to city to retaliate for civilian casualties when parts of London were attacked by accident by the Luftwaffe. That noted,othersourcesindicatethattheLuftwaffehadalways planned to attack London when the time was right. They suggest that it was faulty intelligence estimates about fighter attrition, production, and availability which caused this change in target as the Luftwaffe thought the RAF was beaten.

Even so, this new stategy was a stroke of luck for Britain. Had the attacks on RAF fighter stations been allowed to continue, the RAF would probably have been forced to withdraw north of London, leaving southern England with Germanairsuperiority–preciselytheconditionsnecessary for a successful invasion.

The change in target gave the RAF the breather they needed to recover. Pilot shortages were partially solved by reducing the training programme from six months to

a few weeks, and by allowing Polish, Czech and Canadian

aircrew to fill the ranks of depleted reserves. The Polish proved to be especially adept at air fighting and their No


squadron of the war.

Battle of Britain 70 th Anniversary

Commemorative Special Edition

September 2010

Tiredness, casualty rates and the ‘Ace Factor’ all played a part

An ‘ace’ fighter pilot is officially classed as a pilot accruing five or more kills. But just as in the first world war and in most air conflicts since, some pilots became super aces racking up scores much higher than their fighter pilot


of all kills were scored by only 5 percent of pilots (Ref. 4). This figure was also found to be true in this battle.

4). This figure was also found to be true in this battle. RAF Battle of Britain

RAF Battle of Britain ace Squadron Leader Robert Stanford-Tuck in the cockpit of his Hurricane with his

This special breed becomes experienced enough not to make the stupid careless errors of the beginner. Not only are they good ‘shots’ with deflection shooting (aiming

ahead of a moving target), they have the tactical ability of

a hunter but with all round situational awareness to make

correct split second decisions that allows them to make

a successful attack cleanly and quickly. They did not fire untiltheyweresureofakill(usuallyatmuchshorterranges than other pilots).

than other pilots). “Tallyho!” Luftwaffe twin engine Messerschmitt Me110

“Tallyho!” Luftwaffe twin engine Messerschmitt Me110 fighters are sighted through the reflector gun sight of an RAF Hawker Hurricane pilot with a fellow Hurricane leadingthechaseahead.Inthesubsequentengagement

over the Channel (near Convoy Bread) in July 1940, the ‘Red Leader’ pilot got shot down by a Messerschmitt Me110’s rear machine gunner just over France but ‘Red Two’ (who took the photograph) had more luck and clamed a ‘probable’ kill for the No, 32 squadron based at Biggin Hill. By the way, “Tallyho” was the RAF codeword for ‘sighted the enemy’ and was taken from thetraditionalfoxhuntingcall.TheGermanfighterpilots, who had similar reflector gun sights, were apparently more fans of ‘western’ movies, as their equivalent to “Tallyho”was“Achtung!Indiana!” (“Watchout!Indians!”). Courtesy: Imageshack and

Severalacesofbothsidestriedtotransmittheirexperience to new and inexperienced crew that arrived at the battle. They knew that most victims never saw their assailant. The old World War I saying of ‘Beware the hun in the sun’ still held true, likewise ‘never fly in a straight line for more than thirty seconds in the combat area’ was also sound advice.

Some pilots deliberately trimmed their aircraft to fly erratically and put off the aim of any attacker. Despite some pilots need for success, the wise ones learned that there was still value in teamwork. One former battle of Britainacenotedhowitwaswisetohaveagoodwingman.

battle of Britainacenotedhowitwaswisetohaveagoodwingman. During the Battle of Britain Luftwaffe fighters often

During the Battle of Britain Luftwaffe fighters often sported yellow or white noses to aid identification, somewhat detracting from the usual dark green (upper surface) and light blue (underside) camouflage. Apart from squadron and group emblems, this Messerschmitt Me109 E-3 of JG26 (‘The Abbeville Boys’) also has sixteen ‘victory’ markings on its rudder. Courtesy: commons.wikimedia

In a confused battle, even the best aces could become victimsandseveralpilotswereshotdowntwoorthreetimes.

The Luftwaffe ace Werner Molders, (27 Battle of Britain kills), was himself shot up and severely injured by the South African RAF pilot ace ‘Sailor’ Malan (6 Battle of Britain kills). Malan had seen a fellow 74 squadron Spitfire pilot fall to the German ace’s guns. Then Molders went for him. As an experienced pilot, Malan knew he should sharply turn towards Molders’ attacking Me109. As he did so he managed to rake Molders’ aircraft with bullets to the point where Molders was lucky to escape with his life.SomehowtheLuftwaffeacemanagedtoevadefurther attacks and nurse his fighter back to France. (Ref. 4)

Battle of Britain 70 th Anniversary

Commemorative Special Edition

September 2010

Many pilots were not so lucky and crashed with their aircraft onto the land orinto the sea.Some horribly burned to death on their way down. In this era before ejection seats, many pilots made extra care that their canopies were smoothly opening to ensure an easy escape.

The courageous German bomber crews had even more difficulty in getting out – some having to crawl to escape hatchesastheiraircraftdivedtotheground.Somejumped to their deaths because they bailed out at too low an altitude.Othersdiedbecausetheirparachutesgotsnagged or were damaged.

Itwasacrucialdifferencebetweenthetwosidesthatmore RAF pilots who survived being shot down could return to the battle as they were usually over their home territory when they bailed out. Luftwaffe crews shot down over England were usually captured or were killed in the crash. This factor was important as the RAF had nearly twice as many single seat fighter aircraft (and hence fighter pilots) shot down compared to the Luftwaffe. German bombers were the RAF’s main target if they could get past the Luftwaffe’s fighters.

TheLuftwaffeontheotherhandhadabetterairsearescue operationandmanyRAFaircrewweresavedfromdrowning or being chilled to death in the Channel by these.

There was some controversy here. The RAF officially had an order to destroy such Luftwaffe search and rescue float planes despite their white liveries and red crosses. That said, many RAF pilots disobeyed this order. On the other side, the Luftwaffe were accused of sometimes machine gunning parachuting RAF pilots.

Most pilots on both sides were young and any pilot over


there were still some real veterans. Some Luftwaffe pilots flying fighters had been aces in World War One. The ‘Hun intheSun’sowarnedofinWorldWarOnewassometimes in fact the same ‘Hun’. Despite the popular fiction that fighter pilots were all public school ‘upper class’ types, many NCO (Non Commissioned Officer) pilots from more humble backgrounds flew on both sides. Many were fine pilots and were subsequently promoted to officers.

Tiredness remained a factor throughout the battle. RAF pilots sometimes had to fly five sorties a day though some did not help themselves by drinking and womanising in their hectic evenings.

Sometimes experienced fliers were removed for battle fatigue reasons while squadrons were often rotated – a benefit that the Luftwaffe staffel (squadrons) did not enjoy. As pilot attrition took hold Dowding removed depleted No 11 group RAF squadrons along with their experienced survivorsandtheyweresenttoothergroupstorest,reform

and to train others. They were replaced by new squadrons that were pitched straight into battle.

The RAF did rest pilots for one day a week and even allowed pilots leave during the heat of the battle. The Luftwaffe pilots fought all the way through full time. This meant that Luftwaffe aces had more opportunity to rack up larger scores than their RAF counterparts but left them more exhausted.

It was the Luftwaffe fighter pilots’ high number of claimed kills and the Luftwaffe’s misinterpretation of its own bombing results, which led its high command to believe that the RAF was running out of fighters. This was not the case. British superiority in fighter production and repair meant that they usually had enough machines available. It was fighter pilots that the RAF was running out off. This attritionsituationworsenedastheexperiencedpilotswere replacedby‘easytoshootdown’inexperiencedoneswith just a few flying hours on their types. Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe’s belief that nearly all of the RAF’s fighter force was based in Southern England had to be reappraised when a bomber raid launched from Norway onto North England and Scotland got so severely mauled that it was never tried again in daylight.

As the RAF grew short of pilots, it recruited from the Royal NavyandtheBritishArmyaswellasfromthosefromother countries. On the British side many of the aces were not actually British: Canadians, South Africans and Polish were in the majority in the top scorers.

‘Big wing’ formations worked in the end – especially as a German morale killer

As already mentioned, there was some controversy of the tactics and some inter group rivalry which both hindered and helped the campaign. For example, the ‘big wing’ theory of getting large formations of aircraft in multiple squadrons to intercept on masse was put forward by the legless ace Douglas Bader (11 Battle of Britain kills) and supported by Leigh-Mallory, Chief of No 12 group.

While the big wings failed to work for most of the battle, nevertheless, in the London attacks phase of the battle the ‘big wing’ concept appeared to work mainly because No 12 group fighters to the North had time to form up. Having been shorn of their fighters to the attacking No 11 group fighters, the bombers arrived over London to face these No 12 group big wings.

The morale of bomber pilots during the mid-September attacksonLondonwassaidtohavebeenseriouslyaffected by the sight of these mass formations, having previously beentoldthattheRAFsquadronswereclosetodestruction.

Battle of Britain 70 th Anniversary

Commemorative Special Edition

September 2010

August and September were the decisive months as Nazi invasion is called off

The Battle itself did not have an easily marked start or end. Officially, it began on 8th July 1940 with a large attack on a merchant convoy codenamed ‘Bread’ and finally


up large scale daylight attacks and had, by this time, reverted to mass night bombing on London and other cities during the so called ‘Blitz.’

There were four phases but it was the middle two phases of this period, between 13th August until the 18th September, that the key stages of the battle were fought. The first official phase of the battle, from 8th July until 13th August, involved attacks on convoys and probing attacks on convoys, coastal facilities and radar stations. The idea was to get the measure of fighter command and draw fighters to battle. Although German bombers had serious losses during this period, the fighter losses that fighter command suffered meant that the Channel soon became undefended. Several ships were sunk and convoys were abandoned. Although initially knocked out, the radar stations did not take long to be put back into action and the early warning system could see again.

In order to begin operation ‘Sea Lion’ – the invasion of South England – Adolf Hitler had commanded Goering to destroy Fighter Command. This was to be achieved by destroying fighters in the air and on the ground and by massed attacks on RAF sector stations.

This intensive phase was supposed to begin with Alder


mass attacks until 13th August. Over the next three and ahalfweekseveryRAFfighterstationinsoutheastEngland wasattackedandmuchdamagewascaused.Raidsmainly came in at medium levels, 15,000 – 20,000 feet, but some spectacular successes were achieved by low level raids flying beneath the radar screen.

achieved by low level raids flying beneath the radar screen. OilpaintingbyGeraldCoulsonshowingemergencytake off by No 65

OilpaintingbyGeraldCoulsonshowingemergencytake off by No 65 Squadron spitfires from RAF Manston as the base is attacked by dive bombing Messerschmitt Me110 fighters. Courtesy:

With only limited protection from Bofors 40mm guns and old Lewis machine guns as well as some bizarre rocket launchedparachutelineentrappers,theairfieldsprotecting London,suchasKenleyandBigginHill,tooksuchabeating during that late August period that they were often put out of action. RAF pilot losses became critical although there was never a long term shortage of aircraft.

although there was never a long term shortage of aircraft. A Spitfire survives in its pen

A Spitfire survives in its pen at Kenley as seen from this low level shot taken from a German Dornier 17 bomber


as ‘the Hardest Day’ of the battle. Courtesy:

This dangerous period ended with the switch to the next mainphaseofthebattle:adirectassaultonLondonstarting on 6th September. As already mentioned, this change of target is cited as a major reason why the Luftwaffe lost the battle and their morale plummeted at the sight of the ‘bigwings’approachingastheyattemptedtoreachLondon on 15th and 18th September. The 15th of September is nowusedastheannualcommemorationdayfortheBattle of Britain.

The RAF had a chance to recover their losses and with less fighter air cover and with the fighters becoming the hunted themselves, the loss rates for bomber aircraft


during their worst periods during the air-fighting over Germany) and by the end of September massed raids on


of the campaign eventually became the ‘Blitz’.

Daylight raids continued throughout October but by this stage had turned into hit and run fighter-bomber raids using 109s with bombs strapped beneath them. The day battle had fizzled out by the end of October. It was not known at the time but in reality the battle had been won on the 17th September when Hitler finally postponed his plan to invade Britain (‘Operation Sealion.’). It was the attrition rate from these massed attacks on London, and thefactthatwinterwasapproaching,thatmadeupHitler’s mind that such an operation would be too risky with the RAF still active.

Battle of Britain 70 th Anniversary

Commemorative Special Edition

September 2010

While there was over claiming by both sides during the battle, by its end (officially dated 10th July – 31st October


1887 Luftwaffe machines (Ref 5), though importantly Germany lost about five times as many airmen (2698) as the RAF (544). (Ref. 5)


Britain is saved but it initially failed to salute its saviours

As Hitler moved his eyes eastwards towards Russia, the British Isles were safe, at least for the time being. Nevertheless,theLuftwaffe’sbombingcontinued.Knowing that night bombing, while less accurate, was much safer from RAF interception, the Luftwaffe continued with its night time blitz on London and other cities. This carried on for most of 1941 causing many civilian casualties. Luftwaffe bomber and fighter bomber raids on Britain continued, sometimes sporadically, until the end of the war– thoughby the second half of 1944,it was unmanned V1 flying bombs and V2 ballistic missiles that were Germany’s principle methods of attacking London.

During 1941, RAF fighter command moved onto the offensive using ‘fighter sweeps’ across France and later perfected fighter-bomber attacks on Europe. Meanwhile, the RAF Bomber Command ramped up its own bomber night attacks on Germany. As the United States entered the war in late 1941, so the United Kingdom soon became its largest ‘aircraft carrier’ for U.S. bomber and fighter daylight raids, eventually becoming the ‘jumping off’ point for the D-Day invasion in 1944. This second front in the WestwouldprobablyhavebeenimpossiblewithoutBritain remaining in the war. This, along with Soviet advances on the Easternfront,eventually led to Nazi Germany’s defeat. One of the sadder episodes of the war was the way that HughDowdingandKeithParkweretreatedafterthebattle. After convincing Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Charles Portal, Chief of the Air Staff, to remove them both, the envious Trafford Leigh-Mallory, took over No 11 group and later became head of Fighter Command.

In fact, Dowding was already past retirement age, and while initially posted to the United States of America, he soon afterwards left the RAF. He was replaced by William Sholto Douglas who, like Leigh Mallory, had also been critical of the Battle of Britain strategy. Meanwhile, Park was initially ‘exiled’ to Transport Command though he did later mastermind the successful fighter defence of the island of Malta in the Mediterranean.

It was only after the war that Dowding and Park really got thecredittheydeservedfortheirBattleofBritainleadership.

got thecredittheydeservedfortheirBattleofBritainleadership. Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding was nicknamed
got thecredittheydeservedfortheirBattleofBritainleadership. Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding was nicknamed

Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding was nicknamed ‘Stuffy’ (left) and Air Vice Marshal Keith Park who was an active pilot (right). It was only later that they were properly saluted for their achievement and Keith Park was later knighted. Courtesy: and respectively


Skill and good fortune ensured RAF Fighter Command’s survival

When one former Luftwaffe airman was asked whether the Battle of Britain was commemorated in Germany, his laconic reply was: “We don’t celebrate draws.”

However, the fact that RAF Fighter command managed to survive as a fighting force in this historic battle meant that this ‘draw’ was actually a ‘win’. For a Nazi invasion forcewouldnotriskacrossingwhilefacingtheRoyalNavy without air superiority.

As such, Britain and the free world owe Hugh Dowding, Keith Park, and the gallant ‘few’ that they commanded, eternal thanks and respect. Without them and their sacrifices, the world would undoubtedly have become a much crueler place.

That said, there is something else to note. While this air battledifferedfrom‘Midway’andthoseothernaval-aircraft carriercampaignsinthePacific,whereasingleluckybomb strike could change the fortunes of an engagement, nevertheless, good fortune also played a big part in this battle.

For while the RAF won the Battle of Britain using pilot skill and fighting spirit, excellent leadership and organisation, fine aircraft and radar systems, it also had that most important of attributes: good old British Luck. It was this that made the RAF’s mistakes less serious than the Luftwaffe’s and allowed victory to be taken.

Battle of Britain 70 th Anniversary

Commemorative Special Edition

September 2010

Recommended visits:

Several ‘Battle of Britain’ air shows take place in England every year. The one by Imperial War Museum Duxford is probably the best and is usually held in September. It also has a Battle of Britain static museum display in one of its hangers.

of Britain static museum display in one of its hangers. The RAF Museum at Hendon has

The RAF Museum at Hendon has a good Battle of Britain static display of aircraft and there are a number of smaller museums around Southern England (e.g. at Tangmere, West Sussex and Hawkinge, Kent) which also have artefactsfromthebattle.TheRAFUxbridgebaseisfamous for having the Number 11 Group Battle of Britain ‘control room’.Itisnowamuseumandisopenforvisitsonrequest. It is interesting to see how each squadron had sections colour coded to indicate how much of a squadron had taken off. The coloured clock and timing system was to give controllers and indication of just how up to date the location was.

and indication of just how up to date the location was. No11Group’sBattleofBritainControlRoominUxbridge


isstillpreserveditwasoftenvisitedbyWinstonChurchill duringthebattle.Theindicatorboardindicatedthestatus of each squadron. Courtesy: The Author

Recommended reading and References:

1. The Battle (republished as The Battle of Britain: The

MythandtheReality)byRichardOvery.Thisbookdescribes important aspects including how British productivity outstripped the German war machine.

2. Fighter: The True Story of the Battle of Britain by Len

Deighton. This gives a very good overview and history of the battle and describes some of the technical differences

between the aircraft. Contrary to combat experience Deighton suggests that the Me109 could technically out-turn the Spitfire.

3. The Hardest Day by Alfred Price describes the events

on just one day of the Battle of Britain (18th August 1940). It’s description of the battle on individual airfields is especially good including how Kenley’s rocket powered parachute lines did manage to bring down one fighter. It also has one comic moment of how one poor chap had his lavatory walls blown away, leaving him sat on the toilet in the middle of an airfield.

4. The Ace Factor by Mike Spick describes the qualities

a fighter pilot needs as it examines air fighting from World

War I until the present day. It especially notes that fighter aces are not always the best flyers but those that have the best ‘situational awareness’. The author also notes that physical or mental limitations would probably have prevented some Battle of Britain aces from being selected as fighter pilots today noting RAF ace Robert Stanford Tuck’s slow learning, Adolph Galland’s weak eye and, of course, Douglas Bader’s tin legs.

5. Wikipedia – Battle of Britain entry. This interesting

and accurate account notes various facts and figures in

the battle.

Several pilots have written autobiographical accounts on

what it was like to fly in the Battle of Britain. Most famous is The Last Enemy by Richard Hillary who was killed later

in the war. There is also First Light written by the youngest

pilot in the battle Geoffrey Wellum. The Luftwaffe ace Adolph Galland’s autobiography, The First and the Last, gives a fighter pilot’s view from the other side.

Recommended Films:

While there are various documentaries, actually feature films (movies) give a better idea of what it was like to fight in the battle.

Battle of Britain (1969) – Directed by Guy Hamilton, it describes the history of the battle. It stars Michael Caine, Robert Shaw and Christopher Plummer as fictionalized

Battle of Britain 70 th Anniversary

Commemorative Special Edition

September 2010

fighter pilot commanders albeit that they are about 10 years too old for their roles as the real pilots were in their twenties.Theirrolesarebasedonrealpeople.Forexample, Shaw’scharacterisbasedon‘Sailor’Malan.Theairbattles are good but there are only so many air battles one can take. Also there is no tracer ammunition shown in the engagements. However, the full story of the battle is more or less faithfully delivered.


and starring Jack Hawkins and John Gregson, it is shot in monochrome (black and white) and is thus hence able to make use of actual newsreel footage taken in 1940. It remains an excellent account of an individual air base (it is based on Kenley) during the August period of the battle. The only weakness is that some of the special effects are amusingly not very special. Nevertheless, this writer recommends this one.


footage from the Battle of Britain film above – albeit retrofitting computer generated tracer ammunition to it. It gives an idea what it was like for a Czech pilot to fly for the RAF in the battle and the life stories of the pilots before and after it.

and the life stories of the pilots before and after it. Scene from Dark Blue World

Scene from Dark Blue World (2003) Courtesy:

Reach for the Sky (1956) – Directed by Lewis Gilbert and starring Kenneth More is the biographical story of the legendary legless fighter pilot Douglas Bader. This

monochrome film has a section devoted to the Battle of Britain.The‘BigWing’strategygetsalittletoomuchcredit in this film but it is interesting nonetheless. A hero he may have been, but Douglas Bader’s reputed annoying overconfidence is faithfully portrayed.

Not recommended is Eagles over London. This is a 1969 Italian ‘spaghetti’ Battle of Britain-set spy adventure film (directedbyEnzoG.Castellari)which,whileitisadmittedly entertaining, is so shamelessly inaccurate that it has RAF pilots actually flying Me109s while the ‘Jerries’ are in Spitfires!

Recommended other Media:

There are several computer air combat flight simulators on the market specializing in the Battle of Britain (either flying or strategy or both). One of the first was the original version of Microsoft’s Combat Flight Simulator (for use on PCs) which allows you to fly the campaign on either side.UpdatedversionsarenowavailableasisShockwave Productions’updateofRowan’sBattleofBritaincomputer game (now called Battle of Britain II – Wings of Victory). At their most difficult settings, these simulators do give you an idea of the stress of flying as you have to cope with trying to survive air battles involving several hundred aircraft in the sky at one time.

involving several hundred aircraft in the sky at one time. A Luftwaffe Heinkel 111 awaits an

A Luftwaffe Heinkel 111 awaits an attack from RAF Spitfire in Shockwave Productions’ Battle of Britain II – Wings of Victory computer game. Image courtesy:

David Todd is Ascend’s Senior Space Analyst who edits the Ascend SpaceTrak database and the Ascend Space Intelligence News online newsletter. He has a special interest in the Battle of Britain. To contact him please e-mail:

Ascend UK Head Office Cardinal Point Newall Road Heathrow Airport London TW6 2AS

Tel +44 (0)20 8564 6700

Ascend USA 441 Lexington Avenue Suite 705 New York NY 10017

Tel +1 212 286 1692

Ascend Asia 35/F Central Plaza 18 Harbour Road Wanchai Hong Kong

Tel +852 2813 6366

This publication, in whole or in part, may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission of the publisher.Anyeditorialopinionsexpressedhereinandanyotheropinionsexpressed inthe publicationas a whole are not necessarily those of the publisherorof Ascend or its subsidiaries. The information contained in our databases and used in this newsletter has been assembled from many sources, and whilst reasonable care hasbeentakentoensureaccuracy,theinformationissuppliedontheunderstanding that no legal liability whatsoever shall attach to Ascend Worldwide Limited, its officers, or employees in respect of any error or omission that may have occurred.