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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Many thanks to the Spitfire & Hurricane Memorial at Manston in
Museum - A FREE, FUN, FANTASTIC DAY OUT FOR EVERYONE
|This year, wing your way
over to the Royal Air Force Museum for a free, fun day
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
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 www.rafmuseum.org
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
|Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon
Grahame Park Way,
London NW9 5LL
020 8205 2266
||Royal Air Museum, Cosford
Shropshire TF11 8UP
0870 606 2027
|Visit the website for
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
|See the website for details
Forces Sweethearts - 1940s singing duo
|Welcome back to the
Forties where you can get to know our talents as The
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
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 email@example.com
|Visit the website for details
Blue - offer a huge variety of Experience Days,
including Spitfire Flights, Dambuster Tours and Vintage
|Into The Blue - Spitfire
Into The Blue - Dambuster
Into The Blue - Vintage
|Into The Blue - Spitfire
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
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.
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
Tiger Moth West Sussex
Biplane Flights Nationwide
Harvard Warbird Experience
Vintage Sightseeing Flights
Tiger Moths & Tanks Experience
Chipmunk Flying Lessons
Vintage Stearman Flights
|Visit the website for
Into The Blue - Spitfire
Into The Blue - Dambuster
Into The Blue - Vintage
- The home of 1940's retro
|Welcome to our
website dedicated to all lovers of the 1940's.
Here at back2theforties.com
we are dedicated to bringing you the best in everything
1940's. From retro clothing to music, gifts &
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
|See the website for details
History - Education - Information - Entertainment
- Remembrance - Respect
|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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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'
|Visit the website for details
Belle - A high energy mix of 1940s song and dance- a
mixture of wartime and nostalgic songs.
|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
Tel:07814 968 160
|Visit the website for details
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