Tag Archives: Battle of Britain

The Battle of Britain (4)

The Battle of Britain was Nazi Germany’s first defeat. It was brought about by the famous “Few”.

In the picture above the pilots are running towards their Hurricanes, formidable fighters which claimed 60% of the Luftwaffe aircraft shot down. Here is the most beautiful aircraft ever built:

Even as a little boy, I was fascinated by that magic sounding colour for the underneath of a Spitfire, “duck egg blue”.

I used to teach at Nottingham High School. Two of our Old Boys fought, and died, in the Battle of Britain.

One of them was Arthur Roy Watson. He was born in Basford, a district in the north of Nottingham. Originally the family lived at 193 College Street in Long Eaton, a suburb to the west of Nottingham. College Street runs roughly north to south in Long Eaton. Here is his house, now divided into two semi-detached houses:

College Street’s southern end is on Derby Road more or less opposite Trent College where a propeller from Albert Ball’s aircraft is on display in the library and the original cross from his grave in France is kept in the college chapel:

Did young Arthur ever go to see these important relics? Did they inspire him?  I have already written about the famous World War One fighter ace and the various escapades he found himself involved in. Here he is in his days at Trent College, after his expulsion from Nottingham High School and the King’s School, Grantham:

After living in Long Eaton, the Watson family then moved to 48 Carisbrooke Drive, a leafy suburban road that overlooks the old High School playing fields at Mapperley Park:

His friends in the squadron called him “Watty”, “Rex” or “Doc” because that made him “Doctor Watson”. Here he is standing by his Spitfire. He was just 19 when he was killed:

 

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Filed under Aviation, History, Humour, Nottingham, Politics, The High School

The Battle of Britain (3)

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There is no better person to tell the story of the Battle of Britain that the greatest ever Englishman, Sir Winston Churchill:

“The Battle of France is over … the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science” :

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“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

He produced a second speech which gave us another memorable phrase:

“The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

“All hearts go out to the fighter pilots, whose brilliant actions we see with our own eyes day after day, but we must never forget that all the time, night after night, month after month, our bomber squadrons travel far into Germany, find their targets in the darkness by the highest navigational skill, aim their attacks, often under the heaviest fire, often with serious loss, with deliberate, careful discrimination, and inflict shattering blows upon the whole of the technical and war-making structure of the Nazi power.”

We actually know exactly how that phrase “Never in the field….” came about.

On August 20th 1940 Churchill was travelling in a car with Major General Hastings Ismay to give a speech about the Battle of Britain in the House of Commons. Churchill was reading the speech out aloud to Ismay and it was originally “Never in the history of mankind have so many owed so much to so few”. Ismay interrupted him and said “What about Jesus and his disciples?” Churchill concurred and immediately changed it to its present form “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”.

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, France, History, Politics

The Battle of Britain (2)

Deep in the bowels of the RAF Museum at Hendon is the Battle of Britain section where the lighting is of a strange purple colour so that delicate ancient paint is not faded by direct sunlight. That’s an extra excuse for these rather weird photographs. First of all, the baddies, with that old favourite, the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka, an aircraft used in the blitzkrieg to dive bomb defenceless refugees:

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Here’s a Heinkel He111 which was all right as a bomber but which didn’t carry a particularly significant bomb load. Even so, it performed well at Guernica, Rotterdam, London, Warsaw and half a hundred other places as the Germans invented the much criticised concept of “area bombing”.

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The fighters were the Messerschmitt Bf110, a rather slow aircraft for daylight use which would eventually finish up having to be escorted by better performing fighters:

This is the Junkers Ju 88, a twin engined and very versatile aircraft which was arguably, a competent Bristol Blenheim or a poor man’s De Havilland Mosquito:

Last and certainly not least is the famous Messerschmitt Bf 109, a decent fighter, but an aging design which was prepared in response to a Reichsluftfahrtministerium specification of 1933. Bf 109s couldn’t carry enough fuel to fight for very long over Southern England. And a Spitfire, in theory, could always escape them by turning tightly inside them:

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The Bf 109 at Hendon does not really allow you to stand back and get a decent general photograph. Here is one I found on the Internet. It certainly is a stunning photograph:

The Hendon individual is a Bf 109E-3 and it may have been painted as a yellow nosed member of Jagdgeschwader JG26, “The Abbeville Boys”. There must have been a little plaque in front of it, but I can’t remember what it said. Its detailed history can be accessed here.

And in the blue corner…….the Supermarine Spitfire. Here’s my effort at a picture:

As one writer said,

“It was one of the most beautiful aircraft ever conceived with elegant, flowing lines that make it look perfect from every angle.”

And the most stunning Spitfire ever was the Mark I or Ia or the Mark IIa.

This gallery of photographs comes from the Internet. With a little bit of luck, you should be able to see what I mean about a beautiful aircraft:

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And there’s also a Hawker Hurricane, an aircraft which, as we all know, shot down more German aircraft in the Battle of Britain than the Spitfire. The scores were roughly 60% to 40%. The Hurricane was a design which looked backwards to its biplane ancestors, especially the Hawker Fury:

On the plus side the Hurricane was a lot easier to repair than its cooler cousin, the Spitfire. It was easier to make as well, 10,300 man hours rather than 15,200 for the Spitfire. And easier to make meant cheaper, of course. Here are my unworthy efforts:

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And now some proper photographs:

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And next time, the Old Nottinghamians make an appearance.

 

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Fred joins the RAF (2)

By 1941, inspired no doubt in part by the exploits of “The Few” in the previous year’s Battle of Britain, Fred had made up his mind to join the RAF. To do this, he had to walk to the recruiting office in Derby, a journey he had made so many times before with his father to see Derby County play football at the Baseball Ground:

It was a lot less built up and a lot quieter in 1941 than it is now:

Fred duly arrived at a two storey building in the middle of  Derby, where all three of the services were busily enrolling volunteers.

As he walked in, Fred was immediately offered a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Sherwood Foresters, but he refused this generous opportunity and continued on up the stairs to the RAF. Here, he was asked to spell two words correctly, and he had passed their entrance examination. The words were “horizon” and “bicycle”. Fred was now a proud member of the RAF, an organisation which most of the population believed were “the cream of the nation”. He would wear this for the best part of five years:

When Fred returned home, he told his parents what he had done. His father congratulated him on his bravery, but his frightened mother slapped his face, and said “You wicked boy!”

Not everybody saw it in such a negative way. In October 1941, Fred was still working in Swadlincote at the office of Bert Orgill, a local business man, when Colonel Guy German from nearby Ashby-de-la-Zouch called round, and asked about him, perhaps even seeing Fred as a likely recruit for his own regiment.

Mr Orgill said that Fred had recently volunteered for the RAF, and Colonel German generously gave him a five pound note for having done so. Eventually, Fred would look like this:

At this time, as was briefly mentioned above, the RAF was considered to be the élite force of the three, a fact which was strongly emphasized in the personal letter sent to every man who joined the RAF by Archibald Sinclair, the Secretary of State for War. He said that

“The RAF demands a high standard of physical fitness and alertness, and I congratulate you on passing the stringent tests”.

They were also told they had a “great task to perform” and that

“The honour of the RAF is in your hands. Our country’s safety and the final overthrow of the powers of evil now arrayed against us depend on you and your comrades.”

They were encouraged to “keep fit, work hard, live temperately”. Well, two out of three isn’t bad.

Perhaps as a direct result of this generous praise, there were so many volunteers for the RAF that young men were often sent away for up to a year or more, until a place on a suitable training course became available. This may possibly have been what happened to Fred, although, at this late stage, we have absolutely no way of ever knowing the truth, as his RAF records are far from exhaustive, shall we say!

Nobody of Fred’s social class had ever done any flying. Few had ever been inside an aircraft. Hardly any could even drive a car. To have volunteered for the RAF, and to have been accepted, no matter how low he said their standards of spelling may have been, must have suffused him with immense pride. In this, of course, he was not alone. Thousands of young men across the entire nation had read books and magazines about aviation throughout the 1930s and now, as they reached their early twenties, they were only too willing to join the youngest service:

We do know that when Fred volunteered, he was within just a couple of months of his nineteenth birthday. At the age of eighteen, he still had the right to choose which service he entered. Had he waited those last two months, until he was nineteen years old, the government would then have had the right to conscript him, and he would have lost the right to decide in which arm of the services he was to serve.

It is, however, actually possible to disprove one apparently neat theory, namely that Fred, as a keen cinema goer, might well have been inspired to join the RAF by seeing a famous documentary film, which he would talk about ceaselessly in later years. It was entitled “Target for Tonight”.

“Target for Tonight” was a Crown Film Unit propaganda film, using real RAF personnel throughout and chronicling a night raid on Germany by the Vickers Wellingtons of 149 Squadron of Bomber Command, with, coincidentally, “F for Freddie” as the main aircraft. It is a nice idea that Fred was inspired to join the RAF by seeing this film but it cannot be true, as the film was not released until at least October 1941, almost a full month after Fred volunteered.  He still spent the rest of his life as an enormous fan of  Charles Pickard, the hero of the film:

One thing that Fred was always to joke about, however, was the immediate impact that his joining the Allied Forces was to have on the conflict. Montgomery’s victory over Rommel at El Alamein followed his enlistment reasonably quickly, and not long afterwards, the Soviets were to win the Battle of Stalingrad.

You can watch “Target for Tonight” here:

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