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Battle of Britain and The Spitfire and Hurricane



Digger examines the roles of the Spitfire and the Hurricane, together with the role of strategy, in the winning of the Battle of Britain and tries to explain why the contribution of the beautiful and remarkable Spitfire is often exaggerated


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In the summer of 1940, things had never looked bleaker for Britain.

The British Expeditionary force - over 300,000 men - had been beaten back to the French coast, along with tens of thousands of French troops, by the Nazi war machine. They had to be evacuated from Dunkirk back to Britain, leaving their equipment and many of their dead and wounded comrades behind them. In stoical British fashion, this rescue by a 'little Armada of ships' was represented as a victory.

In the Atlantic, merchant shipping carrying the supplies and raw materials that were Britain's lifeline was taking a pounding from German U-boats who were seemingly attacking and destroying their targets at will. Over 100,000 tonnes of shipping went down in just one month at the hands of the U-boats.

It was to be two years before Britain was to score its first major land victory against the German army at El Alamein and three years before advances could be made in detection technology and tactics in hunting for the German navy's 'wolf packs' of U-boats, rendering the seas tolerably safe for allied shipping.

Anyone looking out to sea from Dover in 1940 could clearly view the colossal German armaments along the French coast 25 miles away and witness overhead the daily troublesome Luftwaffe flights probing Britain's defences. Nobody doubted that it would be long before the Germans tried to invade Britain and it was obvious that, as a preliminary to such an invasion, Britain's air defences would need to be destroyed and its Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) rendered inoperative.

In the mid-30s in the build-up to war, the R.A.F. had ordered 600 fighters from Hawker Aviation and 300 from Supermarine, whilst the Nazi Luftwaffe had stepped-up production of the Messerschmitt Me109.

Designed by Willy Messerschmitt in 1934, and ironically originally powered by a Rolls-Royce Kestrel V engine,  the Me109 won a fighter competition in October 1935, although it wouldn't have won any beauty contest. The Messerschmitt had a very cramped cockpit, visibility was poor, the undercarriage was notoriously fragile and the plane was harder to fly than either of the main British fighters. However, at altitude it performed better than both of its main opponents and overall had similar firepower and capabilities.


Messerschmitt Me109.

Hawker's response to R.A.F. demands was to produce a plane built from traditional materials in a traditional way based on the methodologies learned in the production of bi-planes - thus making its manufacture and repair relatively quick and economical. Sidney Camm - Hawker's chief designer, was able to farm-out the production of components and assembly so that large numbers could be built. The Hurricane was considered generally more sluggish than its comrade-in-arms the Spitfire and it was a bigger plane than the Spitfire, but it was tougher and able to withstand greater damage. 

The Hawker Hurricane

Supermarine's ailing designer R.J. Mitchell had gone 'back to the drawing board' to create the first all-metal fighter plane with a distinctively sleek shape and oval wings. The Spitfire's pedigree was based on the Supermarine seaplane's ability to win the Schneider Trophy year after year in seaplane races. Without doubt a beautiful-looking machine and arguably more of a joy to fly than its chunkier comrade-in-arms, the Spitfire was to get the lion's share of the good press in the ensuing battle, despite the Hurricane outnumbering the Spitfire in kills as well as in the actual number of planes taking part.


The Spitfire


Several other planes on both sides played a significant role in the ensuing battle, yet it is these three planes - the Me109, Hurricane and Spitfire that are identified as key to the events of that summer.

For Hermann Göering, then chief of the German air forces, the view from France in the late spring of 1940 was decidedly rosy and clear. The Germans reckoned that they could destroy the R.A.F. in four days and the British aircraft industry in four weeks. They had seriously underestimated the strengths and tactical abilities of the R.A.F, their ability to predict and to respond to attacks and their aircraft production capabilities. Göering's plan was to attack coastal defences and radar stations along the coast. The Luftwaffe would  then progress to attempting to destroy aircraft on the ground and facilities at airfields and to entice British fighter squadrons away from their bases so that German bombers could wreak their havoc, whilst his fighters, with their numerical advantage, helped themselves to the British fighter planes.

What Göering failed to recognise was that Britain had a number of advantages over the Luftwaffe. They had RADAR and the Royal Observer Corps (R.O.C.), both which gave early warning of the approach of the German fighters. In fact, he seriously underestimated the significance of these early warning stations and the sophisticated British command and control network and, indeed, soon told his commanders not to bother to attack these. He was also blissfully unaware that the British had a de-coding complex at Bletchley Park which was able to unravel the German coded messages within hours, sometimes within minutes, and so know exactly what the German targets and tactics were likely to be.

Led by Chief of Fighter Command Sir Hugh ('Stuffy') Dowding, the British command and control network was based on an impressive use of ground to air communications and heavily-defended and protected control rooms dotted around the south of England. With the aid of information from RADAR and the R.O.C.,  the R.A.F. had the ability to pinpoint exactly where the enemy were and in what numbers so that British planes could be deployed accurately. This meant that the Germans were soon surprised by the apparent British superiority in numbers and started to believe that their intelligence was wrong and that the R.A.F. had much greater strength than they actually had.

Sir Hugh Dowding     Hermann Göering    

At the same time, the German planes had to fly from their bases in Germany or France to Britain and often could spend as little as 15 minutes over the British mainland. If a German plane was shot down or seriously damaged, any survivors would most likely be apprehended by the British authorities, thus ending that unfortunate airman's involvement in the future battle. Conversely, R.A.F. pilots in similar circumstances could be rescued to fight another day. British planes could land and refuel or reload their guns and continue their operations. British fighters could also, relatively easily, attack unprotected German bombers. 

The British didn't get everything right. Some of their tactics were from the old school and soon needed to be updated. Squadrons would often fly into battle in tight formation, rendering them sitting ducks for the enemy, particularly the 'tail-end Charlies' who were at the back and outside of such formations. British pilots had to spend as much time trying to avoid hitting each other as they did in scanning the skies for the Germans. Fortunately, feedback from pilots soon meant that these old-fashioned and deadly formations were abandoned. One successful tactic that emerged, based on what the R.A.F. had seen the more battle-experienced German pilots doing, was for groups of fighters to fly in pairs in close formation. Another controversial innovation which ultimately proved successful was the R.A.F' s 'big wing' approach, where several squadrons (often most of the R.A.F' s strength) would all join up at height at a rendezvous point before engaging the enemy in large numbers.

Although severely outnumbered and battle-weary as a result of endless sorties that summer, the R.A.F. pilots also had psychological advantages knowing that they were defending their own skies and that their planes, the Spitfire and the Hurricane, were seen as superior,  feared and envied by the German pilots.

Far from being an all-British affair, the R.A.F. actually consisted of pilots from all corners of the globe - American, Australian, Belgian, British, Canadian, Czech, French, Irish, Jamaican, New Zealanders, Palestinians, Poles, Rhodesian & South African all took part in significant numbers.

The Battle of Britain raged over the skies of southern England throughout that late summer of 1940 - the Luftwaffe lost a total of 1,733 aircraft from July to October, the RAF 915. Had he but known it, Göering was only 24 hours from victory at one point according to British Flight Command. All our reserves were spent and our pilots were exhausted.

Göering soon decided that he couldn't cope with the severe losses that his bombers were sustaining and insisted that German fighters fly alongside the bombers, and obviously at their lower speeds, in order to protect them. This loss of speed and surprise rendered the German fighter escorts extremely vulnerable to attack. 

Although the Germans' bombers were being very successful in damaging the British defences and airfields, they were under strict instructions not to bomb the same target on two consecutive missions. This gave the British time and opportunity to make repairs and get some planes off the ground even at the most badly bombed airfields.

Incredibly, Göering (influenced by Hitler's anger at Britain attacking Berlin in response to some rogue German bombs landing on London) also decided that the Luftwaffe were taking too much of a punishment from the British fighters. He ordered his planes to switch their attention away from the British airfields and towards the British cities. Whilst this was bad news for the civilian populations of the industrial cities, this gave the R.A.F. and the aviation industry a reprieve and a crucial breather to re-arm and re-stock. It also meant that a German invasion of Britain had to be postponed and that Germany was soon to turn its attention eastwards - a decision which was arguably to cost them the war.

Some people claimed, and continue to claim, that The Battle of Britain ended-up a 'draw' and that the Battle had no real significance. This is utter nonsense. The criteria I would use to decide would be:

1) Did the British succeed in stopping Hitler from gaining air supremacy over the English channel and countering the threat of invasion?

2) Did the RAF out-perform the Luftwaffe?

As we know, Hitler abandoned his plans to invade Britain as he could not guarantee the safety of any invasion force because the RAF still dominated the skies. The statistics show that German planes were shot down at a rate of 2-1 compared to British planes. The Battle of Britain was one of the most important of all time and a 'clincher' in terms of keeping Britain in the war and boosting morale. It was also a great testing-ground for tactics, men, equipment and aircraft production that would prove invaluable later in the war. Radar and the British code-breakers at Bletchley Park were heavily-tested during this period and this led to the birth of the first programmable computer.

The allure and beauty of the Spitfire has created a reputation for it in many people's eyes as the sole reason that Britain won the Battle of Britain. The impact and contribution of the Spitfire was significant, but not any more so than that of the Hurricane and, arguably, less so. Certainly, pilots of both planes are on record as extolling the virtues and superiority of their particular plane over the other. The effective use of both of these planes, the British command and control network and superior British tactics coupled with the German's misreading of the situation and errors in judgement were, in my view,  the main factors for British victory in the battle.

What is clear and without argument is the bravery and skill of 'The Few', so named by  Winston Churchill because there were so few air crew protecting so many British citizens. 'The Few' consisted of 2353 young men from Great Britain and 574 from overseas, pilots and other aircrew, who are officially recognised as having taken part in the Battle of Britain. Each flew at least one sortie with a unit of the Royal Air Force or Fleet Air Arm during the period 10 July to 31 October 1940. 544 lost their lives during the period of the Battle. It is as a result of their courage and sacrifice that Britain was able to deter Nazi Germany from occupying mainland Britain and which eventually turned the tide of war in our favour. 

"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." - Winston Churchill

The Spitfire


Many thanks to the Spitfire & Hurricane Memorial at Manston in Kent.


Website RAF Museum
Details This year, wing your way over to the Royal Air Force Museum for a free, fun day out.
The Royal Air Force Museum is Britain’s only national Museum dedicated wholly to aviation.  With a world-class collection and display of aircraft, integrated with special exhibitions, films, interactives, artwork, engines, missiles, photographs, uniforms, medals and research and education facilities, the Museum takes an innovative approach while keeping with tradition.
While offering a detailed insight into aviation technology, it also focuses on the people who made it possible – from daredevil early aviators, through wartime heroes, to the thousands of ordinary Service men and women whose contribution shapes the world we live in today.
The Museum occupies two public sites at London, and Cosford, Shropshire. Each site offers a unique experience to the visitor and the exhibits compliment each other in terms of the history they project. Both Museums tell the story of aviation from the early bi-planes to the new strike-jets.
The London site is situated on what used to be RAF Hendon. It holds over 100 aircraft in 5 aircraft themed aircraft hall. Other exhibits include missiles, paintings, film shows, medals and uniforms. Be sure to see the Milestones of Flight gallery, with its suspended aircraft, interactive plinths and time-line wall.
The Royal Air Force Museum Cosford, is acknowledged as one of the top public attractions in the Midlands. The Visitor Centre, which includes a restaurant and souvenir shop, is a perfect take-off point for a tour of the Museum, including the wartime hangars in which many of the aircraft are housed - a number of them the only remaining examples in the world.
The magnificent National Cold War Exhibition, a stunning new hall focusing on the Cold War story from national, international and social/political as well as cultural perspectives.  This permanent exhibition hall tells the exciting story of the Cold War years with exhibits including suspended aircraft, military tanks, interactives, films, and more. Learn about what life was like behind the iron curtain!
We also hold exciting events at both sites. This year events include Veterans day, D-Day celebrations, Battle of Britain weekend and a Roald Dahl birthday weekend. For more details you can click on to or call one of the numbers below and speak to a member of staff who will be glad to help you. So book a day out to remember at one of the Royal Air Force Museum sites.
Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon
Grahame Park Way,
London NW9 5LL
020 8205 2266
Royal Air Museum, Cosford
Cosford, Shifnal
Shropshire TF11 8UP
0870 606 2027 
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Guided Battlefield Tours
Guided Battlefield Tours to First World War (WW1) and Second World War (WW2) Battlefield Sites in France and Belgium including The Somme, Ypres and the Normandy D Day Landings

We are a family based company which is operated by Steve and Susan Cocks. We operate a limited number of battlefield tours each year in order that we can provide the quality of personal service that is the leading aim of our company. 

Our First World War Battlefield Tours in 2010 focus on : Recalling the Somme (3 days), Ypres Remembered (3 days), Treading in Tommy's Footsteps (4 days), Chapters from the Western Front (4 days) and The Campaigns of 1917 (4 days). 

Our World War 2 battlefield tours in 2010 take us to Normandy: Normandy and the D Day Landings.

Tel: 01633 258207

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The Forces Sweethearts - 1940s singing duo
Website The Forces Sweethearts
Details Welcome back to the Forties where you can get to know our talents as The Forces Sweethearts

Louise graduated from Mountview Theatre School in 1996. After making her professional debut playing Heather, in the BBC sitcom, 'Grown Ups', she went to appear in 'Peak Practice', 'Band of Gold' (series 3) and Brookside. Louise has also made numerous TV Commercials.
Her theatre credits include the D'oyly Carte Opera Company's West End productions of the 'Mikado' and 'The Pirates of Penzance'. She has appeared in the 'Little Shop of Horrors', 'Escape from Pterodactyl Island', 'Yee Haw' and 'Trial by Jury', all in London.
Louise also appeared for a season with the G & S Opera Company for the Buxton Opera House, and a very successful run as a tap dancing cow in 'Jack and the Beanstalk' at the Salisbury Playhouse.
Deborah graduated from Mountview Theatre School in 1996. She made her professional debut in 'Les Miserables' at the Palace Theatre in London's West End.
Her other West End credits include, 'A Midsummer Nights Dream', 'Troilus and Cressida' and 'Gentleman prefer Blondes'. She also had a leading role in 'Forbidden Broadway' at the Albery Theatre, London, where her Barbera Streisand impersonation is still talked about today!
Deborah has worked extensively in regional theatre, appearing in 'The Magic Flute', 'The Mikado', 'Toad of Toad Hall' and 'Pirates of Penzance'. She was also lucky enough to tour internationally with 'Midsummer Nights Dream' to Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

For Bookings, information or Demo CD, please contact
Louise on 01260 - 290802
or email us at
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Into The Blue - offer a huge variety of Experience Days, including Spitfire Flights, Dambuster Tours and Vintage Aircraft Flights
Website Into The Blue - Spitfire Flights
Into The Blue -  Dambuster Tours
Into The Blue - Vintage Aircraft Flights
Details Into The Blue - Spitfire Flights
Your chance to experience Spitfire flights from privileged positions both on the ground and from the air as you get airborne in a helicopter to fly side by side these most majestic of Second World War fighter aeroplanes.

Whichever of our two Spitfire flight activities you choose, you can be assured that this will make for a truly unforgettable gift for any fan of classic RAF aircraft. It's also your opportunity to take some super air-to-air photos of the Spitfire as she roars alongside and past you in the skies above the Kent coastline. Truly magical!

Into The Blue -  Dambuster Tours
A story of bravery and courage, this 'Dambusters' tour will fascinate you. Venue Yorkshire, Sheffield. 

Into The Blue - Flying and Sightseeing Trips in Vintage Aeroplanes
Tiger Moth West Sussex
Biplane Flights Nationwide
Harvard Warbird Experience
Vintage Sightseeing Flights
Tiger Moths  & Tanks Experience
Chipmunk Flying Lessons
Vintage Stearman Flights
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Into The Blue - Spitfire Flights
Into The Blue -  Dambuster Tours
Into The Blue - Vintage Aircraft Flights - The home of 1940's retro
Details Welcome to our  website dedicated to all lovers of the 1940's. 

Here at we are dedicated to bringing you the best in everything 1940's. From retro clothing to music, gifts & homeware.

Our retro style clothes are lovingly recreated from original period patterns and carefully selected fabric and buttons, often vintage.  We hope you will enjoy your visit & welcome your ideas or comments on ways to improve our site. Be sure to add us to your favourites & look out for our special offers and promotions.

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Homefront History  - Education - Information - Entertainment - Remembrance - Respect
Website Homefront History
Details Homefront History is dedicated to keeping alive the spirit of remembrance for the wartime generation. Our accurate portrayals include civilians, the emergency services and Allied servicemen and women.

We specialise in Police at War, civilian female and male police officers and British Army Military Police (Red Caps) , although we can bring together a wide mix of Allied Service personnel, civilian emergency services personnel and civilians including evacuees/schoolchildren.

We can provide re-enactors for staff, public and private events, Mess and Formal dinners, educational projects, TV, Film and Photography, Museums and Visitor Destinations. Our re-enactors are also available for special occasions, including 1940s themed weddings.

We have full public liability insurance, and references are available upon request.

You can email us using

Telephone Lo call (UK only):
Dial 0844 991 0084
Please dial 44 (0) 77 483 10996 from outside the UK (standard call charges apply)
'Radio Telephone Number 077 483 10996'

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Victory Belle - A high energy mix of 1940s song and dance- a mixture of wartime and nostalgic songs.
Website Victory Belle
Details Johnny Victory and Frances Belle's highly popular wartime tribute show 'Victory Belle'. This show features music, dance and comedy banter in a nostalgic package that is guaranteed to get you singing along and waving your flag.

Whether your event is all day, a full weekend, a few hours or a private party, Victory Belle can create a bespoke service to suit the needs of your event.

We perform a combination of music from the 1940s period, from the jive sounds of Glenn Miller to the sentiments parted by Vera Lynn, to the daft, may we say silly songs of the war, such as Kiss me Goodnight Sergeant Major.

Tel:07814 968 160

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