Friday, August 3, 2007

Never Was So Much Owed by So Many To So Few..

The original poster celebrating the airmen of the Battle of Britain and using Winston Churchill's famous words.

".......the Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin, upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization, upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institution and our Empire." --Winston Churchill

A young Hurricane pilot walks from his aircraft at the beginning of the Battle of Britain.

It was Britain's finest hour, in the words of her great leader Winston Churchill. Pilots of the Royal Air Force faced down the attacking tide of Hitler's Luftwaffe in the desperate summer of 1940, and their courage and flying skills forced Hitler to re-consider his "Project Sea Lion", a planned attack on England. England was saved, not only to fight another day, but to become the jumping-off point for thousands of British, Canadian, Australian and other Allied bombers and fighters as the war continued to rage. And when the final land invasion of 'fortress Europe' began on D-Day, it was launched from British soil.

In this painting by Robert Taylor, a aerial battle rages over the English coastline during the Battle of Britain.

It is impossible to over-state the importance of this air battle, fought by 2,936 Allied pilots against the mighty Luftwaffe. Flying Hurricanes and Spitfires, the young men came from all walks of life, and many had been civilians a brief time before. During the Battle of Britain, 544 of them lost their lives, most killed in action. And lest we forget, over 1,000 Luftwaffe planes were lost as well, each manned by some of Germany's finest aviators at the time. Despite the fanatical evil of their leader, no one can argue with the courage and skill of the Luftwaffe flight crews.

Often overshadowed by the flashier Spitfire, the Hawker Hurricane was the unsung hero of the Battle of Britain.

If you have time, take a moment to click on the link below and scroll through the Aircrew Roll of Honor, remembering how much we owe to the names listed here. [ AIRCREW ROLL OF HONOUR ]

Over the years, there have been several moving memorials built to honor 'The Few'. I am featuring both of them here. One was just a few years ago in London.

At the Battle of Britain Memorial in Folkstone, a young RAF pilot waits for his call to scramble.

The Memorial at Folkstone is in the shape of a giant propeller, with the lone airman in the center of the hub.

Unveiled in 2004, the new Battle of Britain Memorial is located on the Victoria Embankment, London.
A graphic showing the entire sculpture. The scrambling pilots in the center seem to be running out of the sculpture, ready to save Britain once again.

Albert Gregory, 219th Squadron, spends a moment with the new sculpture at the unveiling. What thoughts must be going through this aging fighter pilot's mind?

I recommend for further reading the Official Battle of Britain Historical Society Webpage--

The movie 'Battle of Britain' is also very well-done and available on DVD.

There are many good books about the battle. I like Len Deighton's 'Fighter' the best. Here is the Amazon link for this excellent book:


Anonymous said...

We cannot exagerate what these pilots - and their leadeship - did to save the Western World. If they had failed, there would have been no opportunity for the New World to come to the rescue of the Old.

Richard Havers said...

The Len Deighton book is just brilliant. I bought it when it first came out, must have been in the 70s and devoured it. It's well worth everyone['s money.

I like these words from George Orwell on the BBC Indian Service 19 September 1942

“Four days ago, September 15th, was celebrated throughout this country and the world as the second anniversary of the Battle of Britain…The whole maneuver however was a failure and in about two months of air warfare the Germans lost between two and three thousand planes, with some thousands of irreplaceable airmen.

September 15th is celebrated as the anniversary because on that day the Royal Air Force shot down no less than 185 German planes, and it was about that date that the failure of the Germans to overwhelm the British defenses by daylight bombing became apparent. Now that we can look back and see the events in better perspective it is becoming clear that the Battle of Britain ranks in importance with Trafalgar, Salamis, the defeat of the Spanish Armada and other battles of the past in which the invading forces of a seemingly invincible monarch or dictator have been beaten back and which have formed a turning point in history.”

r morris said...

Absolutely. One of the greatest victories of WWII in either theater, rivaled only by Midway.

And I agree, one of the most important victories in the history of Western Civilization (and I teach the subject). :)